Ralph's Leadership in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies
Ralph, the elected leader of the group of British boys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, strives to take the civilized society to which he is accustomed and apply it to society on the island on which he and the other boys are stranded. As leader, this task seems simple – tell the other boys what they each need to do and expect them to do it. Ralph fails to realize the difference between the rest of the boys and himself.
The world is in the middle of a massive war, a war in which the threat of the atomic bomb looms prominently. In fear of losing all its future fighting force, Britain sends a group of its schoolboys on an airplane to safety. Before reaching its destination, though, an enemy fighter plane shoots down the boys’ plane. The plane crashes into a forest on a remote island and, as a result, the pilots die. This group of schoolboys jumps from a society in which adults direct them to act properly to one in which there is no authoritative figure to give them orders. Back in Britain, adults train the boys to obey them and follow their lead. They act appropriately because of the threat of punishment for disobedience. Even later in the novel, once things begin to fall apart, Golding writes, “Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law” (62). As the story progresses, though the boys go so far as to participate in savage acts such as killing each other, in the end, they realize that they conducted themselves immorally.
Stranded on the island with a bunch of boys and no adults, Ralph quickly takes charge and demands the election of a leader of the boys. He emerges as the clear choice for leader. Not only does he have archetypal “fair hair” (7), but Golding also explains, “but 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 powerfully, there was the conch” (22). The boys choose Ralph as leader not only because of his height, but most importantly, because he possesses the conch. The boys recognize Ralph as the one who gathered them together by blowing the shell-like conch and choose him as their leader.
Things work out well for Ralph at first. He takes charge over the boys and tells them what they need to accomplish for rescue and survival. The ways of the organized and civil society he learned back home in Britain show through in the method he uses in explaining the tasks the boys needed to complete. He approaches things from an organized, logical, and practical manner and thinks first about being rescued. Immediately after being elected leader and satisfying Jack, another prominent character in the novel, by allowing him to choose the task of his choir boys, Ralph says, “If this isn’t an island we might be rescued straight away. So we’ve got to decide if this is an...