Ralph, the Protagonist in Lord of the Flies: Character Analysis & Quotes

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  • 0:00 A Natural Leader
  • 1:23 Ralph as a Symbolic Figure
  • 2:51 Ralph's Own Dark Side
  • 3:49 The Rescue
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Judith Dunkerly-Bean

Judith has taught university literacy and teacher education courses and holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction.

Meet Ralph, the protagonist in William Golding's novel, 'Lord of the Flies'. The boys elected leader, Ralph is left to helplessly watch his established order descend into chaos. His character represents the fragility of civilization.

A Natural Leader?

What makes someone a leader? Is it an innate or natural ability? Circumstance? Perhaps a combination of those elements creates a leader. In William Golding's classic novel, Lord of the Flies, Ralph, the protagonist, is in the right place at the right time to become the leader of the plane-wrecked school boys who find themselves on a deserted island.

Ralph is affable, good-looking and charismatic - much like a young John F. Kennedy. Aside from his charm, Ralph is pragmatic. Rather than seeing the island as a playground free from adult interference, Ralph immediately begins to organize the boys. He has them build shelters, and start a signal fire to maximize their chance at a speedy rescue.

Ralph is also uses resources at his disposal to establish his leadership. As the boys explore the beach, Ralph and Piggy spot something in the sand: ''Ralph had stopped smiling and was pointing into the lagoon. Something creamy lay among the ferny weeds.

'A stone.'

'No. A shell.' ''

What they have found is a conch shell. While it is Piggy who knows a bit about how to blow into it to produce sound, Ralph sees is as a way to call the boys to order. The boys then duly elect him their leader.

Ralph as a Symbolic Figure

The author, William Golding, wrote Lord of the Flies as an allegory, which is using a story to illustrate a deeper statement or moral. In this case, the novel is a cautionary tale, and we can take nothing at face or surface value. This applies to Ralph as well.

Remember the conch shell Ralph found on the beach? It's a symbol, or representation, of order and political power. When Ralph establishes the rule that the boy holding the shell has the right to speak and that the others must listen, he is symbolically representing the role of democratic participation in a civilized society.

However, just as power creates, it can also corrupt. Ralph soon learns that just assuming the role of 'chief' does not automatically guarantee that people will follow your orders. The other boys want to let the signal fire go out, and Ralph becomes autocratic rather quickly: ''I'm chief. We've got to make certain. Can't you see the mountain? There's no signal showing. There may be a ship out there. Are you all off your rockers?''

Yet, even as Ralph sees the boys begin to reject the need to return to civilization, he blames the island, not his leadership or the boys themselves. As the majority of the boys give into barbaric impulses and continue to descend into chaos, Ralph attempts to hang on to the shreds of the ordered civilization that he had established.

Ralph's Own Dark Side

Yet, remember, William Golding is trying to teach us a lesson. He believed that civilization, order and laws are the only thing that keeps people from behaving like barbarians. So, as the order of the island falls away, we see our leader start to crumble under his own dark side.

When Simon (who is portrayed as kind of a mystic) bursts into the boys frantic feast, the boys mistake him for a mythical beast and kill him. Ralph tries to get in on it: ''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.''

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