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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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Describe Ralph's appearance and reaction to the island in Lord of the Flies.

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Ralph is an athletic, typically English 12-year-old boy with fair hair, a slim "golden" body, and broad shoulders. He looks like a natural leader because he is tall, has a "stillness" about him, and is attractive. His reaction to being on the island is one of delight, but this does not last long.

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We get a description of Ralph's physical features in the first few pages of the book. We know that he has blond hair. In fact, the author refers to him as “the boy with fair hair.”

His physique is also contrasted with Piggy’s when they first meet. Ralph is described as the “fair boy” versus Piggy, who is described as the “fat boy.” This contrast clues us to the fact that Ralph is probably thin and well-built. In fact, we learn that he is athletic because he performs a hand-stand right there in the middle of the scar.

At just over twelve years of age, he has “lost the prominent tummy of childhood” (his baby fat). However, he is not “yet old enough for adolescence to have made him awkward.” The initial impression we get is that he is limber and nimble enough to do a head-stand on the beach. The logical extension is that Ralph is athletic. The fact that he is not "awkward" supports this view.

Yet he is not painfully thin. In fact, Golding goes so far as to say that Ralph “might make a boxer, as far as width and heaviness of shoulders went.” When he takes his clothes off to dip in the water, we see that he has a “golden body,” and his eyes are “bright.”

Ralph's physical attributes lead us to believe that he is strong and handsome. We also learn that he appears to be thoughtful or “mild” rather than malicious. Specifically,

there was a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil ...

We learn that he is smaller in stature than Jack. When Jack approaches Ralph for the first time, he “peered down at Ralph,” leaving the reader the impression that Jack is the taller of the two boys.

Ralph’s initial reaction to being on the island is exhilaration because the boys will be free from the control of adults. This response does not last long, however, and Ralph is soon figuring out ways to communicate to the civilized world via fighter planes flying overhead that the boys need to be rescued.

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Ralph has "fair hair." When he takes off his clothes to swim in the lagoon, Piggy notes Ralph has a "golden body." We learn that Ralph has lost the "prominent tummy of childhood" but is "not yet old enough for adolescence to have made him awkward." He has a "mild" expression.

Ralph is the quintessential well-bred, athletic English boy from the prosperous "Home Counties" surrounding London in the south. He represents the decency of English civilization:

The fair boy stopped and jerked his stockings with an automatic gesture that made the jungle seem for a moment like the Home Counties.

We also learn that Ralph has the physical attributes of a born leader:

there was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive appearance ...

Ralph's physical appearance, along with his possession of the conch, makes it natural for the other boys to elect him their chief, to the mortification of Jack. Ralph's physical appearance is also a marked contrast to the fat, bespectacled Piggy. Piggy, with his odd voice and appearance, as well as his asthma, can only ever be second-in-command, despite his high intelligence.

Ralph, with his healthy instincts, reacts with delight to the island. He appreciates its beauty and potential. The island thrills him as if it is a dream come true, and he looks at its sandy beach and lagoon with "bright, excited" eyes. He stands on his head to express his joy, and on the beach, dives as if he is a fighter plane and pretends to machine gun Piggy. He then dives into and swims in the warm waters of the lagoon.

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Within the first few lines of William Golding's novel, Ralph is described as the boy with “fair hair.” When Ralph sheds his clothes for the first time, the narrator describes him as “a boxer, as far as width and heaviness of shoulders went, but there was a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil.” This description shows Ralph’s athletic, strong physique while also suggesting that he is a kind, even-keeled person.

His initial reaction to the island is a mixture of unconcern at the lack of adult supervision and excitement at the prospect of adventure. He looks at the landscape with “bright, excited eyes” and seems certain that his Naval officer father will be there to rescue him at any moment. This suggests Ralph’s naive outlook on being stranded, which indicates his childlike thought patterns and immaturity.

Of course, these attributes change as the novel continues. While Ralph is a fun-loving, immature kid at the beginning, he transforms into a cynical, wounded adult with a deep understanding of the evil within the world. The natural confidence and rose-colored outlook on life he possesses in the beginning are slowly destroyed as the boys devolve into savagery.

Ralph is also a natural leader whom others look to for answers and who knows how to prioritize the needs of the majority, as evidenced by his being selected as chief and his speeches about shelters and fire.

One could argue that Ralph is adventurous, strong, charismatic, unsure, bossy, unsympathetic, conflict-avoidant, and/or despondent depending on which parts of the novel one discusses.

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Ralph is described early on as being an attractive boy with sandy hair and the build of an athlete.  His initial reaction to being on the island is one of excitement.  He does not seem overly concerned about there not being any grown-ups and in fact continuously does headstands to express his joy concerning this.  A little later on, h's excitement doesn't necessarily relinquish, but he does become concerned about organizing some sort of societal structure (this is mostly brought on by the finding of the conch and by Piggy urging him to take charge).  Ralph is soon elected leader of the group.

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