Ralph, one of the first characters encountered in the novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding, is a young, fair-haired boy of twelve. Ralph is stranded on a deserted island during World War II with a group of English kids. Their plane crashed and the pilot is nowhere to be seen so the group of kids are stranded under no adult supervision. Since there are no adults to take charge, Ralph a natural leader, is elected as the chief of the boys. As the novel progresses, his leadership is threatened by Jackï¿½s instinct towards acting savagely and lust for power. Ralph learns that most boys have their own ideas of right and wrong and sometimes have totally different priorities. Golding presents Ralph as a character that symbolizes order, civilization, and leadership in a society.
Ralph first gains order from blowing on the conch shell to summon the boys after being separated from the crash. Since Ralph is the keeper of the conch, he is elected chief and has the power over the boys. The narrator describes Ralph by saying, “There was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerful, there was the conch.” (p. 19) The conch represents order and power and it is used for the right of speaking in the tribe. He tries to instill a sense of order into the boys. Order is seen when Ralph calls the children into an assembly by using the conch and tells them, “We can help them to find us. If a ship comes near the island they may not notice us. So we must make smoke on top of the mountain. We must make a fire?A fire! Make a fire!” (p. 33) Ralph is demanding to the children that a fire is needed and ordering them to make it. He is testing his power by raising his voice so that he can keep the children under control. Order is very important to Ralph because he is chief which means he must maintain it and without it, the children would run wild doing as they pleased
Ralphï¿½s role as a leader is very strong on the deserted island. Like all leaders, he experiences glories and downfalls, high points and low points during his status as chief on the island. Ralph sets out showing his leadership by suggesting to build huts and thinking of ways how to maximize their chances for retrieval. Ralph starts their first task with an expedition to find out if they are on an island so that they can analyze how to be rescued. Ralph displays his leadership when he says, “Everybody must stay round here and wait and not go away.
Three of us?if we take more we’d get all mixed, and lose each other?three of us will go on an expedition and find out.” (p. 20) Ralph is suggesting that finding out if they are on an island would give them a better interpretation as to how to be rescued and that they should have the minimum number of people do it so that no one gets separated from the group. This shows that he is a good leader and intends to create and maintain safety for all. Even as a leader, Ralph has his insecurities. It is shown when Ralph spots the boat and the fire isn’t lit. Ralph says, “We might have gone home?I was chief, and you were going to do what I said. You talk. But you cant even build huts-then you go off hunting and let out the fire.” (p.65) Ralph desires to go home and finds how hard the position as leader is and is weighed down by responsibilities. Ralph, even though struggles at points, is a strong leader and tries to please the group and instill a sense of calmness and hope.
Ralph represents civilization in the fact that he wants everyone to live fairly amongst one another and follow the rules. He is very democratic and takes a rational perspective based on his beliefs of justice. Ralph sees the island as his Eden, a perfect place where everything belongs to them. He realizes, like all the other boys that a world without adults means that they could do as they pleased but unlike the others he immediately realizes the need for rules and organization. Ralph says to Jack while they are arguing, “The rules are the only thing we’ve got!” (p. 84) Ralph believes the rules keep the boys attached to some semblance of society, but without these rules there will be chaos and consequences for everyone.
Later in the story Ralph is fighting between being civilized and being a savage. He says during the assembly, “The fire’s the most important thing. Without the fire we can’t be rescued. I’d like to put on war-paint and be a savage. But we must keep the fire burning. The fire’s the most important thing on the island, because, because, ?Oh yes. Without the fire we can’t be rescued. So we must stay by the fire and make smoke.” (p. 131) Ralph is struggling between choosing fire, which represents civilization, or war-paint, which represents savagery. Ralph believes in acting civilized with rules and not converting into savagery but it is becoming more difficult since the children are starting to follow Jack’s lead and the bloody hunt. Living in a civilized manner is Ralph’s most important goals yet his hardest struggle on the deserted island.