Ralph is the protagonist of the novel. He is elected as chief of the group of boys and tries to keep the community functioning and safe. Yet he is unable to stop the community degenerating into savagery and, at the end, he is hunted almost to the death by the other boys.
‘a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil’
• Ralph is a character who has an innate goodness. The noun ‘mildness’ suggests a genuine kindness of heart.
• Golding uses the motif of eyes throughout the novel to explore ideas; Ralph’s eyes reflect his humanity, and sharply contrast to the later description of Jack’s eyes which are very different as they are ‘ready to turn to anger’
Context: It is possible to read ‘Lord of the Flies’ as a religious allegory; the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. Golding describes Ralph with religious imagery – ‘mild’ ‘no devil’ – and this foreshadows his loss of innocence by the end of the novel.
‘him with the shell’
• Ralph quickly becomes leader of the boys, winning the vote to decide on the chief.
• He is elected partly because of his association with the conch. The conch is used as a symbol of civilisation in the novel and Ralph becomes the democratically elected leader. He represents democracy in the novel.
Context: Freudian analysis suggests that Ralph represents the ‘ego’, the part of us that struggles to resist our basic instincts and to comply with society. Ralph’s link with the conch reflects this.
• Golding describes Ralph as having ‘true leadership’. He shows good instincts as a leader, making sensible decisions about shelters and latrines.
Context: Ralph represents civilised society and the paternalistic aspects of government, trying to make sure that the community stays healthy and safe.
‘Ralph was fighting to get near, to get a handful of that brown, vulnerable flesh’
• Ralph gets caught up in the taunting of Robert when the boys pretend that he is a pig and use him in a play-hunt which hovers on the edge of real violence.
• Ralph does have a ‘devil’ in him after all; he is attracted to the violence. The repetitive clause ‘to get’ captures his burning desire to hurt Robert. In the heat of the moment, Ralph does not see Robert as a frightened human; the noun ‘flesh’ reflects how Ralph has dehumanised Robert in his craving to overpower and inflict pain on him.
Context: Golding fought in World War 2 and saw even the best of men give in to savagery and brutality. Ralph’s desire to hurt and kill is part of our nature and what Golding saw as the ‘terrible disease’ of being human.
‘the rules are the only thing we’ve got!’
• Ralph is aware of the importance of rules as the foundation of their society.
• Ralph has a rational brain; he is able to think logically and clearly about what their community needs, such as the need for fire.
• The exclamatory sentence captures his passion; Ralph knows that the existence of their fragile society hangs on a knife edge and he is desperate to keep the community functioning.
• Ralph clings to the remnants of society and civilisation as he remembers it.
Context: Golding uses Ralph and Jack to represent two schools of thought on how society should be run: Ralph represents democracy while Jack is moving towards a dictatorship. In this, Golding draws parallels with the recent World War 2, often viewed as a struggle between opposing ideologies.
‘We’ll go and look’
• Ralph shows bravery when he announces his intention of climbing the mountain to see if there is a beast.
• The declarative sentence and the modal verb ‘will’ work together to show Ralph’s clear sense of purpose. Even though he is frightened, Ralph still leads the boys up the mountains.
‘screaming, snarling, bloody’
• At the end, Ralph is hunted by the other boys and bursts out of his hiding place ‘screaming, snarling, bloody’.
• Ralph is no more than a savage himself at the end. The list highlights this as he is inarticulately ‘screaming’ and ‘snarling’. Language is one of the defining features of civilisation yet Ralph makes animal noises. Fear has reduced him to animal status as he is focused on no more than a will to survive.
Grade 9 Analysis
Look at the character in a different way.
Is Ralph the hero of the novel?
Yes: Ralph is the central figure in the novel and has heroic qualities with his desperate attempts to resist the descent into savagery. He even looks like a hero with ‘his size, and attractive appearance’ and his authority is sealed with his finding of the conch. According to literary conventions, Ralph is the hero of ‘Lord of the Flies’. We see most events through his eyes and the novel follows his story, starting and ending with his experiences so that in the last page ‘Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy’.There is a huge pathos in Ralph’s tears as he acknowledges how he has lost his childhood and witnessed unspeakable acts; the reader feels empathy with this central character and his desperate sadness.
In this sense, the novel is a bildungsroman, a genre where the central character or hero learns maturity. Ralph has learnt about the dark side of human nature and cannot forget this, returning to civilisation a changed character.
No: There are other contenders for the title of hero. There is Piggy, who is the one who actually understands how to use the conch and instructs Ralph, knowing that the sound will call the others. It is Piggy who has the real knowledge and intelligence. Simon is also a contender with his pure qualities and his tragic death. Furthermore, Ralph himself is not the noble hero we might expect; he is certainly involved in the dreadful murder of Simon, showing that he is as capable of savage violence as the others. Indeed, perhaps Golding presents a bleak world of human savagery where all suffer from the ‘terrible disease’ of being human, and in this world there are no heroes.