‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding Essay

Compare and Contrast the characters of Ralph and Jack and comment on their roles in the novel? ‘Lord of the Flies’ is an allegory, a simple adventure story that also has deeper meaning. Golding uses the characters of Ralph and Jack to illustrate the battle between right and wrong within society. Both have dominant characters but use methods that contrast in many ways. They have different expectations of others and of the island itself, and have opposing priorities and objectives. It is necessary to examine their different character traits in detail, in order to understand how these influence the development of life on the island. At Jack’s first appearance in the novel, we recognise him as a natural leader. Jack is the head of the choir and a strict disciplinarian. “Choir! Stand still!” However, throughout this encounter, he maintains control and dignity. Jack has complete confidence in his decisions. He cannot be accused of worrying people by being indecisive as he always has clear and definite opinions. “I ought to be chief … I can sing C sharp”. However, his black cloak and red hair are hints of a dark and fiery side to his character. These were the main colours of the Nazi Party flag. Gradually we see Jack changing from an authoritarian leader into something much more ruthless, casting him as a type of Hitler. In contrast, Ralph first appears fun-loving and carefree, sounding like a typical public school boy, “wacco – wizard – golly”. He online assignment writing is excited at the prospect of an adventure at the beginning, not considering the implications of being alone and coping on the island, standing on his head when he does not know what to do. “Forced at last to believe in the reality of the island, laughed delightedly again and stood on his head”. Ralph is an instinctive person who has a tendency to rush into things before considering the consequences. This shows his immaturity. Ralph is therefore quite childish and na�ve at times. Later in the novel Ralph looks back with regret at “that first enthusiastic exploration as though it were part of a brighter childhood”. Despite this, Ralph shows himself to be a strong character who often displays clear authority during the novel. He desires order, calling assemblies and using the conch, the symbol of democracy and civilisation, “Ralph felt a kind of reverence for the conch.” This shows Ralph’s belief in democracy. He tries to treat people as equals, including characters like Piggy. He cares for others and is compassionate, especially to the “littluns”. Ralph also shows his assertiveness when dealing with Piggy, “Better Piggy than Fatty,” he said at last, with the directness of genuine leadership.” He is also courageous confronting the tribe when they steal Piggy’s glasses calling Jack “a beast and a swine and a bloody, bloody thief”. Ralph’s physical appearance also favours him. He is tall, agile, a good swimmer with “a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaim no devil.” This is a clear indication of Ralph’s character. However, he does not convey as much confidence as Jack. Ralph can appear the weaker of the two by depending on Piggy for advice. This is probably because he has had no experience of leadership and therefore lacks confidence. Simon suggests Ralph needs to be firmer “you’re chief, you tell ’em off” However Ralph could also be seen as open-minded. He is always prepared to listen to both sides of an argument without forcing his own opinions. Ralph has an optimistic character, never questioning that rescue will come. Ralph earns the respect of the boys and gains their trust. Jack rules through fear. It is a sign of Ralph’s good judgement that he delegates responsibility and trusts Piggy, having respect for his advice. Although like everyone else he becomes more savage in order to survive, unlike Jack he does not take this to extremes. Ralph becomes aware of his filthy appearance “with a little fall of his heart”. After Simon’s death he says, “I’m frightened of us.” In contrast, Jack becomes a good keen hunter and relishes this role. Increasingly he begins to adopt animal-like methods “down like a sprinter” as if he is ready to sniff out the scent. Jack can be very determined, and will persevere. At first, Jack is unable to kill the pig, but he shows promise of completing the task in hand “…I shall! Next time!” Soon his obsession with killing the pig takes over and he can no longer keep his basic instincts under control. There are hints that Jack finds it harder to keep a clear head. Jack “…frowned in an effort to attain clarity,” showing that he was beginning to lose concentration and control. Jack forgets about home and has no wish to get off the island. Soon, he has no priorities, other than to hunt and kill. Jack becomes increasingly tyrannical towards everyone. The longer the boys are on the island the worse he becomes. At first Jack targets most of his aggression at Piggy. This seems to be a coping mechanism when things are going wrong. Jack uses Piggy to vent his frustration physically. He seems to feel his only way of control is through violence. Jack shows himself to be a bully, and respect is not given to Jack voluntarily, he demands it. The reason why people obey him is through terror. His followers become known as “the Tribe” symbolising their loss of individual identity. As Jack’s dictatorial style develops he shows himself to be very narrow-minded and expects people never to question him. He will not listen to anyone’s opinion. “Bollocks to the rules!” the phrase Jack uses to dismiss democracy. From the beginning, Jack is consistently rude to Piggy. He is a very judgmental person, and he takes Piggy at face value. Jack does not look for the best or show any sign of accepting people for who they are. He has no consideration for people’s feelings. Eventually any suggestions given to Jack are taken as a threat. Jack shows no remorse. A good example of this is the incident concerning the fire. The fire is the symbol of safety and of destruction – of power and of hope. The Hunters whom Jack leads can be viewed in the same way. A symbol of safety when obtaining food, but of destruction when blindly killing. By neglecting the fire, Jack shows himself to be unreliable, forsaking the group in favour of his own interests and priorities. He does not admit to being at fault or apologise, but retaliates with aggression. It is easy to understand why Jack is viewed as the obvious leader. He came to the island with experience of holding a responsible position. Ralph, however, has a more spontaneous approach. He is less rigid and seems able to adapt to the changing circumstances. Throughout their time on the island we see Jack and Ralph changing due to their environment and the pressures which they face. Often Ralph rises to the challenge with fairness and clear thinking, but the weight of responsibility causes extreme stress. “A strange thing happened in his head. Something flittered there in front of his mind like a bat’s wing, obscuring his idea.” Jack however becomes increasingly violent and degenerates into an overpowering dictator. ‘Lord of the Flies’ was written by Golding to highlight some of the relevant issues of the day. Published in 1954, there was a strong worldwide movement against dictators and fascism following the Second World War. The division between Ralph and Jack highlights the gulf between good and evil, “two continents of experience and feeling, unable to communicate”. Jack’s role symbolises fallen mankind, degenerating as the novel progresses into ultimate sin and savagery. Ralph also becomes aware of the “darkness of man’s heart”. Ralph’s failure to maintain democracy symbolises mankind’s failure to deal with our own sinful natures. “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.”  


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