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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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How does Golding portray Ralph's understanding of human nature in Lord of the Flies?

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Golding uses imagery to make Ralph's realizations about human nature and their effect on him especially vivid. When Jack and the hunters let the fire go out, the narrator describes "Ralph's scarred nakedness, and the sombre silence" of his group of boys. When Jack tries to explain how satisfying and successful and thrilling their hunt was, Ralph is unmoved. "One arm pointed at the empty horizon. His voice was loud and savage and struck them into silence. 'There was a ship.'" The visual image of Ralph's tanned and skinny arm pointing toward the unbroken horizon—where a ship once was—is very arresting (and heartbreaking), and Ralph's stillness is quite stark especially in comparison to Jack's movements. Jack begins to stab at the pig, while "Ralph brought his arm down, fist clenched, and his voice shook." It is visual and auditory imagery like this that Golding uses to help make Ralph's growing awareness especially vivid. As if to juxtapose what is represented by each of the two boys, the narrator says,

There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled commonsense.

Jack is bloodied and red from his hunting exploits, all animal and thrill, while Ralph is quiet and confused and still.

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Ralph's understanding of human nature is informed by his relationships with and the actions of the other boys on the island. In the beginning, Ralph believes that people are inherently good and want to work towards a better, more cohesive society. This is perhaps best demonstrated in Ralph's proclamations at the beginning of Chapter 2, when he directs the boys to begin building a society together and supporting one another to work towards a more secure future and point of rescue. However, Ralph slowly loses faith in humanity over the course of the novel: 

  1. The fire goes out: Ignoring Ralph's insistence that the signal fire stay lit, Jack leads the hunters on their first successful trip. Jack, in response to Ralph's quiet anger, takes out his own embarrassment and anger on Piggy, whom he shoves, breaking Piggy's spectacles. 
  2. The conch loses power: Slowly, Ralph's democracy breaks down and the boys become more unruly and crueler. This is particularly evident in their treatment of Piggy, who despite holding the conch, is constantly belittled, interrupted, and ignored. 
  3. Simon's death: In a frenzy of fear and animalistic pleasure, the boys attack Simon and beat him to death, maintaining that he is the beast. Their perverse joy and release in this brutal ritual, which Jack calls their "dance", leads to Ralph's deep depression. 
  4. Piggy's death: Piggy's violent murder, which symbolically also shatters the conch, Ralph's attempt at civilization, is punctuated by Jack throwing a spear at Ralph's side, claiming ultimate authority over the boys. 

By the end of the novel, Ralph's faith in humanity has been systematically destroyed until he himself has also become prey rather than human. 

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In Lord of the Flies, Ralph is changed by his experiences on the island. How does Golding show this?

There are also a couple of passages in the novel that show when Ralph is slowing "losing it."  In chapter 7 it shows Ralph daydreaming about home.  He does this twice.  He longs for normalcy, and he is slowly realizing how different things are going to be if he ever survives this.

In chapter 10, there is one of the two moments where we see Ralph's mind slowly forget what is important.  "...that curtain flapped in his head and he forgot what he had been driving at."  He's trying to remember how important the smoke is and why they need the signal. This is one way that Golding shows how he's changing.

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In Lord of the Flies, Ralph is changed by his experiences on the island. How does Golding show this?

In the beginning, Ralph is just a 12 year old boy, doing what many boys would do in his situation.  He plays in the warm, ocean water.  Ralph grabs ahold of the one name Piggy asked not to be called and calls Piggy that.  Typical boy actions. He has to mature quickly though when he is placed in charge of the boys.  He accepts his duties and tries to be reasonable with the boys, appealing to what he perceives as their combined desire to be rescued off the island. He is civilized and he tries to treat others with civility as best a 12 year old can.  By the last chapter, he is being hunted like an animal and he must think like an animal.  When he encounters the pig's skull stuck on the stick sharpened at both ends, he knocks the skull off the stick and grabs the stick to use as a weapon.  He has degenerated and become as savage as those who are hunting him.  When the officer appears at the end to rescue the boys, Ralph weeps for "...the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart...".  Ralph fully understands finally that the beast the boys feared was not an outside opponent, but it lived inside of each one of them.  It took him the entire novel to realize what Simon and Piggy both realized much earlier.  It also took Ralph the entire novel to finally let out the beast within him.  He realizes that he is no better than Jack and the others because he was prepared to kill just as they were prepared to kill. 

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How have Ralph's experiences on the island changed him and how does William Golding show this?

At the beginning of the story, Ralph stands in stark contrast to Jack in his calm demeanor and his eagerness to establish rules that will help the boys to get rescued. He seems to be very concerned about the other boys and is confident that his dad will come rescue them as soon as he gets some leave.

But there are several incidents that show how he changes, in particular how he loses the innocence he had at the outset of the story. The first is when he participates in the hunt and manages to wound the pig. He revels in it, showing that he too is willing to give in to the desire for violence. The second instance is when he is part of the murder of Simon. Though Ralph regrets it, he demonstrates an understanding of the blackness and despair that he feels after the party when he and Piggy and SamnEric discuss what happened.

At the close of the story, Golding uses Ralph to symbolize the loss of innocence of all the boys as he describes him weeping. Though the naval officer is there to rescue them, Ralph weeps bitterly at what he now knows about the boys and the darkness inside of them.

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