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 Ralph reveal signs of savagery in Lord of the Flies?

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Ralph begins to show signs of savagery when he play fights with the group after an exhilarating pig hunt. Ralph and the other boys jokingly reenact the pig hunt with Robert as the pig, but the boys briefly lose themselves in the excitement and start actually actually hitting Robert with their spears. This moment of violence foreshadows Simon's death and Ralph's participation in it.

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Ralph is generally regarded as a symbol of leadership, organization, and authority on the island, but he's far from perfect. In fact, from the beginning, it's clear that his tendency is usually to go along with the mentality of the group—as seen when he joins the other boys in mocking Piggy.

By chapter 5, Ralph's appearance is beginning to reflect a lessening sense of civilization:

This wind pressed his grey shirt against his chest so that he noticed—in this new mood of comprehension—how the folds were stiff like cardboard, and unpleasant; noticed too how the frayed edges of his shorts were making an uncomfortable, pink area on the front of his thighs. With a convulsion of the mind, Ralph discovered dirt and decay, understood how much he disliked perpetually flicking the tangled hair out of his eyes...

The island is affecting Ralph physically, and his increasingly savage appearance mirrors the changes taking place in his personality. As he physically begins to blend in to the wildness of the island, he also has moments where his leadership lapses.

These changes in Ralph become apparent when the group decides to enjoy a "game" with Robert after they attempt to spear a pig. Robert becomes their pretend pig, and Ralph, who has found the exhilaration of a pig hunt unexpectedly exciting, turns this violent energy toward Robert:

The circle moved in and round. Robert squealed in mock terror, then real pain.
“Ow! Stop it! You’re hurting!”
The butt end of a spear fell on his back as he blundered among them.
“Hold him!”
They got his arms and legs. Ralph, carried away by a sudden thick excitement, grabbed Eric’s spear and jabbed at Robert with it.
“Kill him! Kill him!”

Although this is just a game, this is the first real sign of Ralph's descent into savagery. This transformation culminates in violence when, in chapter 9, Ralph and the other boys turn on the innocent Simon in a frenzy and kill him, somehow unable to even see Simon as a human being. In that moment, Ralph is so caught up in the lust for death and blood that he never attempts to save his faithful friend.

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Ralph is meant to be the beacon of civility in the novel. He is the first leader elected, and he establishes rules like the conch shell and meetings. He is one who values dialogue and sees the ultimate need for morality that's established among the boys if they are to live together. He is contrasted by Jack, who represents savagery and the willingness to kill and hurt—things that threaten to tear apart any society.

The first sign that Ralph is giving in to the savagery of the rest of the boys is in chapter 7 when he is drawn to participate in the mock killing of the pig, but almost hurt Robert another one of the boys. Ralph loses his mind when participating in the action, almost really hurting the other boy. The text describes it as,

"Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!”

Ralph too was fighting to get near, to get a handful of that brown, vulnerable flesh. The desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering.

Ralph giving in to savagery is just a sign of things to come. Ralph will descend entirely into savagery when he eventually participates in the killing of Simon, who has come down from the mountain to explain what that the beast isn’t real. Ralph, despite his allegiance to civility, is not immune to the rapture of savagery or the hold it has on the other boys.

It is ironic, the way the naval officer at the end of the book talks about the boys forgetting their civilized ways so quickly because the story makes it seem like the allure of savagery and violence is almost irresistible. Ralph and Piggy, who both represent different parts of society and order, help to kill Simon, who is probably the only character in the story that would not have descended into savagery because of his gentle nature. The truth is that both Ralph and Piggy buy into civilized ideals because that is what they are taught to value, but they do not have the inherent goodness that Simon seems to possess.

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Even the normally sane and rational Ralph finds it hard to resist getting caught up in the other boys' bloodlust when they all head off for a spot of pig-hunting. This is crucial as it highlights one of the book's most important themes, that there's a fine line between civilization and barbarism. If even Ralph can descend, albeit temporarily, into outright savagery, then what hope is there for the other boys?

Unfortunately, this doesn't turn out to be an isolated episode, either, as can be seen from Ralph's—and Piggy's—participation in Simon's murder. Once they're become caught up in the intoxicating ritual of the tribal dance they revert to a more primitive mindset, bound to the other members of the group in a primal unity that transcends their numerous differences.

When all's said and done, Ralph's still a boy; an intelligent, civilized boy, but a boy all the same. This means he can never completely escape the often cruel, sadistic impulses with which most boys of his age are afflicted at some point. Add to this the difficult circumstances of life on the island, and the only surprise is that Ralph didn't degenerate into savagery much sooner.

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Throughout the majority of the novel, Ralph is a proponent for civility and views the savages with contempt. After the boys agree to hunt the beast, Ralph joins the hunters as they explore the island. In Chapter 7, Ralph takes part in a hunt and becomes excited after he hits the nose of a boar with his spear. Although Ralph only injures the animal, he is extremely proud of his accomplishment. Golding writes,

"He sunned himself in their new respect and felt that hunting was good after all" (162).

When Ralph begins to reenact the hunt, Robert plays the role of the pig and all of the hunters begin poking him. Ralph gets carried away by the excitement and starts jabbing Robert using Eric's spear. As the hunters begin to chant "Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!" Ralph attempts to harm Robert (Golding 164). Golding writes,

"The desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering" (Golding 164).

Ralph's behavior depicts his primitive instinct to act like a savage. Later on in the novel, Ralph continues to reveal signs of savagery by beginning to forget the significance of maintaining a signal fire and participating in the murder of Simon.

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