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

Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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What makes Ralph a bad leader in Lord of the Flies in chapters 1 through 6?

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An underlying problem that contributes to Ralph’s difficulties is that the concept of leadership is not necessarily endorsed by all the children. While Jack very much wants to be obeyed and even idolized, Ralph is invested in notions of respect for authority. He is not a very imaginative person, but he has a strong sense of responsibility. One aspect of this tendency that undermines his position is that he confuses leadership with control. Ralph fails to grasp the importance of leading by example; instead, he seeks to impose rules.

Ralph recognizes that Piggy is on the right track about the conch, but he cannot follow through to develop this idea fully. He sees it as one element among many desirable rules: “we ought to have more rules. Where the conch is, that's a meeting.”

A related problem is he fails to anticipate that the other children are far less interested in rules than he is. As Jack succinctly states: "Bullocks to the rules!"

Ralph understands that he lacks Jack’s natural charisma, but he cannot grasp that he must substitute the qualities of a natural leader—one who leads by example and from within the group. Instead of participating in group activities, he chastises them about not doing things for "fun." As he sets himself and Piggy apart from the others, he inadvertently encouraging the factionalism that Jack was confident would turn out in his favor.

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1: Almost immediately, Ralph begins to lose control over the boys in chapter 2. After the littlun with the mulberry-colored birthmark mentions that there is a beastie on the island, Ralph has a difficult time expressing his opinion that there is no such creature. However, the boys ignore Ralph and continue to discuss the existence of the beastie. When Ralph finally gets control over the group again, he mentions that they need to build a signal fire. Jack dismisses the conch and interrupts Ralph's speech as he leads the enthused group up the mountain. Golding writes,

"Ralph was on his feet too, shouting for quiet, but no one heard him. All at once the crowd swayed toward the island and was gone–following Jack. Even the tiny children went and did their best among the leaves and broken branches. Ralph was left, holding the conch, with no one but Piggy" (52).

2: In chapter 4, Jack dismisses the hunters from their duty of maintaining the signal fire, and the fire goes out. Unfortunately, a ship passes and does not stop to rescue the boys. When Jack returns from his hunt with a dead pig, Ralph is visibly upset and chastizes Jack for leading his hunters away from the signal fire. Instead of removing Jack from his leadership role of being in charge of the hunters, Ralph calls for a meeting. Jack essentially disobeys Ralph and gets away with a significant blunder that could have cost the boys their lives.

3: In chapter 5, Ralph loses control of his assembly meeting as the boys become distracted by the subject of the beast. Jack then begins mercilessly ridiculing Piggy while he attempts to address the group. Ralph commands Jack to stop talking, but Jack responds by saying,

"And you shut up! Who are you, anyway? Sitting there telling people what to do. You can’t hunt, you can’t sing—" (Golding, 129).

Ralph fails to properly put Jack in his place and demonstrate his authority. Jack then leads the majority of the boys away from the assembly as they begin their ritual hunting dance. Ralph does not impose consequences for Jack and his followers, which only emboldens Jack to usurp power.

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Ralph treats Piggy badly right from their first encounter in Lord of the Flies. He pays Piggly little mind, trying "to be offhand and not too obviously uninterested." When Piggy asks his name, Ralph responds but fails to ask Piggy his name. When Piggy tells him he is afflicted with asthma, Ralph derogatorily responds, "Ass-mar."

Piggy later tells Ralph his hated nickname, and pleads with Ralph not to tell the other boys. Ralph mocks the fat boy, and later, reveals to the other boys Piggy's name. "Better Piggy than Fatty," Ralph tells him. By doing so, he deliberately breaks a confidence with the boy who will become his closest ally.

When the small boys complain of the "beasties" that inhabit the island, Ralph just "laughed, and the other boys laughed with him." Later, he "looked at the little boy in mixed amusement and exasperation." Ralph's inconsideration of the smaller boys show both a lack of leadership and concern for those who have chosen him their leader.

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