This essay is a character study of Ralph, who is one of the main characters in William Golding's ?Lord of the Flies'. I have chosen to analyse Ralph's character, as it is the character with which I feel that I can relate most closely. Ralph is probably the novel's main character. This essay will include my identification of the major aspects of Ralph's character and how he symbolises different themes, which are portrayed in the novel. I will cover in this what Ralph contributes to the plot of the novel, a description of Ralph's appearance, his dreams, his attitude to being stranded on the island, how he relates to the other boys and how he organises the boys into becoming a self-dependent society.
Ralph's character plays a major part in the plot of ?Lord of the Flies'. Ralph is the first character we meet in the novel and at first he seems to be very relaxed about the situation of being in unknown territory. The plot begins opens when Ralph and another boy, Piggy, discover each other and eventually decide through Piggy's constant persistence to blow through a conch shell to see if there are any other people around. It turns out that there are many other boys stranded on the island and they begin to form a small community, which is controlled by Ralph who becomes the leader. Throughout the novel Ralph tries to keep the boys in order and to preserve a civilised society by showing constant faith that if they work together they will be rescued. He does this by encouraging them to keep a fire burning, which represents that faith, and to organise themselves into a unit equipped to handle the unpredictable situation. However, Ralph finds this increasingly difficult as the story progresses. Ralph begins to long and daydream of his civilised and normal past. Gradually, he becomes confused and began to lose clarity in his thoughts and speeches. "Ralph was puzzled by the shutter that flickered in his brain. There was something he wanted to say; then the shutter had come down." (p. 156)
Suspicion arises that there may be a beast on the island and Jack the main choir boy, who is Ralph's chief rival for leadership, forms a tribe and begins to encourage the other boys to ignore Ralph's rule. Gradually many of the boys turn into savages and treat the island like their own playpen, with an incremental build up of evil in their behaviour. Another major character, Simon, is a deeply good individual, who performs many acts of thoughtfulness and kindness. Simon sees visions but is very frail. Simon becomes the first victim of what the boys of as the beast, ?the Lord of the Flies' or ?Beelzebub', when he goes to his sanctuary and finds there a pig's head on a stick, with which he starts to have an imaginary conversation. When he tries to tell the boys the truth about there situation and that the beast is in all of them, he is beaten to death by the other boys. Ralph tries to face up honestly to what has happened and admits that Simon's death is murder, while Piggy argues it was an accident. Jack's tribe now claim that Simon was the beast.
The society now becomes split into two gangs, Jack's tribe and Ralph's now much smaller group. Jack's tribe begin to intimidate Piggy and he too eventually dies as the result of an accident. Eventually Ralph is left completely on his own. He learns that Jack's tribe are planning to hunt him and he sets fire to the forest and runs towards the beach. The huge fire has, however, attracted a ship and the sailors come onto the island and rescue Ralph and two of his former friends. The sailors have no idea of the savagery to which the boys have descended and think that they are just playing a game.
Ralph is an attractive, fair-haired and athletic young boy, in contrast to Piggy who is short and fat, wears glasses and has asthma. Jack is red-haired, with freckles and blue-eyed. He is strong and athletic. Simon is a bit frail and weedy. Ralph shows his resourcefulness in building shelters and in finding a use for the conch shell which he also uses as an image of his authority. Eventually the conch shell loses its significance and is left unnoticed at the other side of the island.
Ralph has certain qualities that set him apart from the other characters at the start of the book:
"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 powerful, there was the conch." (p. 24)
Throughout the story we see the events through Ralph's eyes and realise at the end how they children have lost their innocence and see ?the darkness of man's heart'. Though he started as a sensible boy who thought the best of people, he now realises that all people are flawed. Although rescued, Ralph weeps at the end because of his realisation of evil in themselves. There is even evil in Ralph himself, when he reveals Piggy's nickname just to raise a laugh amongst the others and so he shows that he too wants to be one of the group. Golding himself describes Ralph's character in an essay as ?? the average, rather more than average, man of good will and common sense; the man who makes mistakes because he simply does not understand at first the nature of the disease from which they all suffer.' This quote tells us that at the start Ralph is an exceptional able boy who is strong and athletic and has many of the qualities necessary to be a good leader, as he shows by his authority, resourcefulness and ability to organise the other boys into a community. Yet Ralph makes real mistakes. He participates when Simon dies, does not fully appreciate Piggy's qualities until after he is dead and is prepared to resort to savagery at the end to save his life.
Throughout the story Ralph shows courage and struggles to continue to believe that people are fundamentally good. He finds it difficult at first to accept that Jack means him evil. Although he has all of these good qualities, he needs Piggy who is in fact more intelligent than him and comes up with all the good ideas. There is increasing obvious rivalry between Ralph and Jack and it is significant that Jack is more successful as a leader because he can persuade the boys and they believe that he is better able to protect them. He is more effective at keeping the tribe together and controlling them. Ralph on the other hand spends time trying to persuade the boys with common sense and does not realise that they can be persuaded more easily with bribes and the temptation of fun. Ralph is a thoughtful leader, who does try to take people's feelings into account, by for example appointing Jack as leader of the choir but he does go far enough to realise that Jack will compete with him and become his rival. Ralph has tried to establish a democracy, where everyone has the right to vote, but he is beaten by Jack who operates a dictatorship and gives no one else the opportunity to make decisions. However, sometimes the strongest person is not the best choice. Authors often show how humans select this stronger person, in order to give an understanding of the different powers that some people can posses over others. In William Golding's novel, Lord of the Flies Ralph though not the stronger person, demonstrates a better understanding of people which gives Ralph better leadership qualities than Jack, although he is ultimately not succesful.
In a way Simon can be seen to represent Jesus Christ and Jack is evil and represents Belezebub. It is ironic that Jack starts out as the leader of the choir and ends up by being the most evil of the boys. Ralph is like Peter who was the disciple that Christ loved best and yet who betrayed Christ.
In conclusion, Ralph is possibly the most heroic character in the book as he is, if you note, the only one who follows his belief and faith and this brings him through, even in the forest at the end, when it is him against the rest. In the end Ralph is a very ordinary boy who has almost been crushed by the opposition but despite recognising obvious weaknesses in himself, he always tries to understand what is going on around him and to understand himself and thus shows indubitable heroism. He is more heroic because of his weaknesses and his acceptance of his own guilt.