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Primary Character Analysis of Lord of the Flies

The personalities and developments of Ralph, Jack and Piggy highlight the overarching themes of Lord of the Flies. Through their differing attitudes and responses to power, Golding explores the constant tension between civilisation and savagery. He also probes further into the clash between order and chaos that resides within human nature.

Ralph

Ralph is the first character we meet and the novel’s main protagonist. He is described as physically strong, like a “boxer”, but also possessing a kind nature, with “a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil.” Ralph is elected as the boys’ leader because he is one of the oldest, he looks impressive and also possesses the conch.

He does his best to appease Jack by making him the leader of the hunters. However, he ultimately loses control of Jack and his leadership when savagery becomes more appealing to the boys than building a civilisation.

Ralph is shown to be brave and moralistic in the way that he continues to stand up to Jack even when his enemy has most of the boys on his side. He looks to establish fairness, as shown in his attempt to get Piggy’s glasses back. However, he is not immune from savagery himself. Robert gets hurt during Ralph’s reenactment of hunting the boar, when Ralph becomes “carried away by a sudden thick excitement.” It looks for a moment as if he may actually kill Robert, and afterwards awkwardly claims that it was “Just a game.”

He also gets swept up in the collective frenzy that occurs before Simon is killed. Due to his part in the horrifying act, shocked at his own behaviour, Ralph says:

“I wasn’t scared… I was―I don’t know what I was.” 

He only just escapes being murdered by Jack’s tribe when he is saved by the appearance of the naval officer. Even at this point, he tells the officer that he is the leader, which Jack doesn’t dispute.

Through his deep sadness at the end of the novel, we understand how much has been lost because of the barbaric savagery into which the boys have descended. The narrator describes how:

“with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, 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.”

Jack

In his first appearance, Jack is leading a group of choir boys, which instantly makes him a candidate to be the overall leader. He is angered when Ralph gets the position, creating tension between the two immediately. His thirst for cruelty is also shown during their meeting when they establish the rules and he becomes excited at the idea of implementing more strict rules and punishing anyone who disobeys them.

When he first gets the opportunity to kill a pig, he cannot bring himself to do so. However, this changes, and he soon begins to take a sadistic pleasure in killing the animals. He also learns to track them like a true predator as he “sniffs the air” to smell their scent and even observes their “droppings.”

Jack first tries to take the leadership through the democratic voting system. When this doesn’t work, he forms a breakaway group that acts through force, such as stealing firesticks and Piggy’s glasses so that he has the main currency of fire. His descent into evil is shown as he orders the torture of Sam and Eric, and then the murder of Ralph.

Jack’s leadership style is the opposite of Ralph’s gentle and sensible democracy. He rules as a cruel dictator who is “liberated from shame”. He gets the boys on his side by stirring them up emotionally rather than thinking rationally, getting them to chant violent slogans such as:

“Kill the pig! Cut her throat! Spill her blood!”

Once he established power, he maintained it through fear and violence. Jack showed this by having a boy imprisoned and beaten for angering him, and through his lies about the danger the beast poses.

Interestingly, he doesn’t protest when Ralph claims the leadership in front of the naval officer. Away from the savage society established when there were no adults, Jack no longer holds the power to enforce his evil acts.

Piggy

Piggy is of a lower social class than the other boys. This is established in his grammatically incorrect speech patterns:

“We was attacked!”

He is also shown to be physically weak as he is overweight, has poor vision and asthma, and cannot swim. This gives the instant impression that he may become a victim in an environment where there are no adults to keep order.

His lowly position is further emphasised when he wants to go on the first exploration of the island, but is humiliated when Ralph tells him, “You’re no good on a job like this.” He then becomes upset when Ralph reveals his nickname of Piggy to the wider group, and Ralph tells him bluntly, “Better Piggy than Fatty.”

However, he is also shown to be clever, and his sensible planning – while not popular – makes him an influential figure among the boys. He is shown to be rational and scientific, directing the boys to sensible strategies such as building shelter and moving the fire to the beach. He tells them, in a superior way that annoys many of the boys:

“The first thing we ought to have made was shelters down there by the beach…how can you expect to be rescued if you don’t put first things first and act proper?”

Piggy is the strongest believer against the beast’s existence. However, he loses his rational approach when he gets caught up in the frenzy that leads to Simon’s death. We can see his shame in his part of it when he tries to claim that it was an “accident” rather than murder.

He earns Ralph’s respect, becoming his main ally and de facto second-in-command. The two of them are seen discussing strategy and concerns about the group. This makes Piggy a threat in Jack’s eyes, and Jack does his best to undermine and intimidate him whenever he can. He makes fun of Piggy’s voice and lower-class accent, and calls him “Fatty.”

When the signal fire goes out because of Jack’s negligence, Piggy criticises him and Jack takes the opportunity to hit him, damaging his glasses in the process.

After Jack steals his glasses, Piggy insists Ralph calls a meeting with the conch, which shows his unflinching belief in maintaining democracy. Misreading quite how evil Jack’s tribe have become, he pleads with them to embrace sensible behaviour over savagery. By standing up for his beliefs, and his rational outlook on the world, he is murdered, but is nonetheless heroic in death.

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