Two separate illustrations of an animal head and a fire on a mountain

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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Extended Character Analysis

Ralph is the protagonist of Lord of the Flies. He is one of the older boys on the island, and his good looks and confidence make him a natural leader. He finds the conch and initially looks on it as a “worthy plaything.” Acting on Piggy’s suggestion, he blows into it and summons the rest of the boys. This action, combined with his age and good looks, inspires the rest of the boys to elect him as their chief. Ralph represents civilization and democratic government, as he upholds the rules of the conch and attempts to organize the boys to build shelters and maintain a signal fire. His focus is on rescue and the return to the civilized world of grown-ups. 

Though Ralph accepts the role of chief, his initial inclination is not to become the leader of the boys, but rather to play around and enjoy his newfound freedom. Piggy’s guidance leads Ralph to assume the mantle of leadership, a dynamic that emphasizes the relationship between Piggy’s intellect and Ralph’s natural leadership qualities. The first time Jack openly challenges Ralph’s leadership, Ralph loses confidence in himself and considers giving up being chief. Responsibility is a burden that Ralph grows weary of, and he only decides to continue as chief after Simon and Piggy warn of the alternative of never being rescued. Ralph’s leadership style is democratic, and he thrives when people agree to work together with a common purpose. However, once that common purpose disintegrates, his leadership weakens. Ralph attempts to unite the boys using the need for a signal fire, but eventually fear of the beast and mania for the hunt overwhelm everything. 

Though Ralph symbolizes civilization and order, he displays moments of savagery, seen in his awed reaction to the signal fire that burns out of control and his elation over stabbing a pig. He also takes part in Simon’s murder during the ritual dance. However, unlike Jack and the hunters, Ralph refuses to give himself over to savagery, instead clinging to the promise of rescue and return to civilization. Only when he is being hunted like an animal does he truly gives himself over to violence and instinct, prioritizing survival over civility. Ralph’s moments of violence serve as a reminder that the civilized world is constructed around the inherent savagery of the human heart. 

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List of Characters