Lord of the Flies By William Golding Ralph He's the first lost boy we meet, and he's definitely the best—after all, he's elected chief. He is good looking. He's "fair" (1.1) and "attractive." More than that, he has the conch. And he can blow it. Because the conch symbolizes power and order, because he has the conch he gets a head start in the island power structure. Instead of getting caught up in the hunting bloodlust, he proposes something practical, sensible, start a fire, and then watch it to make sure it doesn't go out. He's got nerve, too. When someone has to go look for the "beast," Ralph appoints himself. When he's scared, he "[binds] himself together with his will" (7.246), meaning that he's able to force himself to do something he really, really doesn't want to do for the good of the group. It looks like his power depends on civilization. He lifted the conch. 'Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things' (1.228). A chief, to Ralph, is a sort of first-among-equals deal, someone who's elected to keep things in order. As he thinks, "if you [are] a chief, you [have] to think, you [have] to be wise […] you [have] to grab at a decision" (5.10). See that word "decide" used twice? For Ralph, chiefdom is about leading people. It's not about personal power or triumph; it's about making sure the group is taken care of, which means making sure the little ones get looked after, keeping people from pooping where they eat (literally), and getting that darn fire lit. One of Ralph's first actions is taking off his clothes. Believe us when we say that stripping is never a good sign: it's the first step to becoming a lawless savage. Here's how it goes down: He [Ralph] jumped down from the terrace. The sand was thick over his black shoes and the heat hit him. He became conscious of the weight of clothes, kicked his shoes off fiercely and ripped off each stocking with its elastic garter in a single movement. Then he leapt back on the terrace, pulled off his shirt, and stood there among the skull-like coconuts with green shadows from the palms and forest sliding over his skin. He undid the snake-clasp of his belt, lugged off his shorts and pants, and stood there naked, looking at the dazzling beach and the water. (1.53) While this is probably a more sensible way to run around a deserted island than in black shoes and garters. But it's also a sign that, underneath his school uniform, Ralph is just as much a little savage as any of the other boys. We get a hint of this even earlier, when he "shriek[s] with laughter" about Piggy's name (1): Ralph may be a good kid, but he's still a kid. When it comes to hunting, Ralph starts to seem even more sinister. The first time he wounds a pig, he talks "excitedly" and thinks that maybe "hunting was good after all" (7)
And then, when the party at Jack's starts to heat up, they find themselves "eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society" (9)—which pretty soon turns into the brutal murder of Simon. No matter how much Ralph tries to convince himself that "we left early" (10), it's not true: he helped kill Simon. The beast lives in him, too. In the end, he's all animal: he "launched himself like a cat; stabbed, snarling, with the spear, and the savage doubled up" (12.165), keeping himself alive long enough to roll away from Jack's band and end up at the feet of the naval officer—safe. For now. Ralph gradually deteriorates over the course of the novel. As order and rules go by the wayside, so does the order within Ralph's own head. He can remember that he wants a signal fire, but he can't remember why. He knows it's something to do with smoke, but then he can't put two and two together. Piggy has to help him out repeatedly, and the gap in Ralph's train of thoughts worsens as the novel progresses. When they confront Jack and the "savages," Piggy has to remind him: "remember what we came for. The fire. My specs" (11.159). That just might make Ralph our tragic...
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