Every one of us at certain point of time in our lives dreams of running away from our life, to escape into the lands of anonymity where no one can reach us and we have life the way we want it to be. But, never can we imagine that this dream, if fulfilled can turn into a living terror. In his novel, ‘Lord of the flies,’ William Golding has definitely let his characters attain their dream but this one doesn’t turn out to be as glorious and enchanting as it seemed when in fantasy. It was more loathsome than the reality is, with no restrain on human and amoral conducts. Wilderness and savagery were the thumb rule. Each character in the novel traverses these dark gullies of their fantasies in their own peculiar way. They get astonished, scared, succumbed, develop, and evolves into a being other than what they were. Their character’s strength is put to test and how they come out those adverse circumstances is what the story is all about. Ralph, Jack, and Piggy, the three main characters of the novel are synonymous with the struggle a human face when thrown into the dark nooks of the primal world where wilderness tries to overpower their civilized mind. Ralph fights out the empowering savage prowess and wins.
Golding etches out beautifully how wilderness tries to succumbs innocent souls and fighting it out leaves what impact on the life of protagonist, Ralph; Jack who surrenders to savagery and cannibalism. He drives his group to the ultimate edge of savagery with camouflage to get rid of civilization and their blood dance around fire after slaughtering a boar; Piggy, with all his maturity and sense of civility. Despite being ridiculed every now and then, mocked of his composure, yet he proves to be most sensible when everyone is fighting each other. (Hafidh)
Ralph seems to be the best amongst boys, who did command certain authority, and combined it with morality and intelligence. He always made it a point to keep the priority of rescue in mind and retain focused on signals even when savages threatened their life. The twist comes in when a boat passes by island without noticing them which happens because Jack left fire signal back at hunting place. Ralph gets infuriated on Jack owing to his negligence on the part of rescue signal, fire. This breach of trust results into conflict between Ralph and Jack. Just because of Jack’s stupidity rescue was lost. Ralph loathes Jack and gets separated. Jack wanted to attain leadership and for this he tries to lure Ralph’s team. The savage tribe loses control and act unruly yet this does not deters Ralph from keeping the fire alight and send smoke signals. Ralph felt a stab after Piggy’s death and conversion of Eric and Sam into savages but his spirit of looking for rescue didn’t break. While the end approaches, the Savages sets pyre to the island to kill Ralph. Ralph’s determination to seek rescue gets achieved as a naval officer notices the smoke signal and comes to rescue. Finally, boys are saved from getting succumbed to the oblivion of distant Island.
Without Ralph, rescue wouldn’t have been possible. Jack would have been the head, and all the boys might have turned into savages already. Ralph shows courage whenever required. His actions are his mirrored thoughts. Ralph is the one who doesn’t give up on his determination to leave island to reach home.
The novel implores the archetypal theme of defeat of evil by humanity or the other theme can be anthropological which traverses the fact that when humanity left alone into the wilderness, in the world of primal forces how, it gets succumbed to those dark powers. How much easy it is to let go off humanity and civilization when in the middle of primitive forces of distant islands. The time when William Golding came up with the novel was of World War II when the very European standards of civilization were questioned. A reconsideration of human rationality and civilization was called for. (Schwartz)
Ralph is a blond British boy, aged about twelve, and is one of the eldest amongst the group stranded on the island. He is the protagonist of the novel, and is one of the strongest characters in the ‘Lord of the Flies’. Well built and charming, as put in the words of Golding, ‘You could see now that he might make a boxer, as far as width and heaviness of shoulders went, but there was a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil.’
In the beginning of the novel, Ralph is chosen as the leader instead of other contender Jack Merridew, who is a choirboy’s head. Ralph acts decisive, and shows a leader’s quality, when he goes on to assign an important task for Jack, so that he doesn’t feel left out, and co-operates, in their endeavor to escape the island. He distributes the work amongst all, and shows the decisiveness of his character, where he is not only a commander, but also a just leader. Once being selected as chief, Ralph sets rules and using the exemplar of a conch shell organizes the whole society under his command. He is the only boy who has good sense of judgment and differentiates between what is right and what is wrong. And, with the help of his good discerning prowess he strives to achieve what is right. The main focus of Ralph’s action was to keep the civilization amidst the boys intact and strive to achieve rescues in any case. He along with Piggy who is an outcast builds shelters and makes sure that fire is alight always so as to assure that smoke signals are sent consistently for rescue. In order to keep conch running impeccably, Ralph calls meeting of boys two times in a day i.e. in morning and once during evening. With meetings he wanted to instill the sense of security and unity amongst the members.
However, at first, Ralph’s actions seem to be selfish, unfair and ignorant. He sends Jack and Simon to go up to the mountain, instead of Piggy, and check whether it is an island or not. It was done in an order to placate Jack. Piggy is an intelligent and understanding person. But, Ralph and others choose to ignore him rudely when he shows his readiness in getting along with them and mix up. He shows lack of understanding as a leader, when he asks fire to be lighted, which eventually loses control, with little children around them. Ralph is too self-centered while making decisions. This is evident from the way he doesn’t allow other characters space to voice out their opinions. He had made it mandatory for others to follow the conch rule until the moment he realizes sense in Piggy’s words. The sudden realization dawns upon him of Piggy’s sense of discretion. Ralph weighs Piggy’s ideas and on finding their worth becomes humble towards him. This change in Ralph’s attitude shows his intellect and rightness.
The Protagonist has guts to show up when the situation demands it. After Jack’s tribe invades Ralph’s tent and loots the fire and take away Piggy’s spectacles, Ralph dauntlessly enters Jack’s arena surrounded with savages. At this junction in the story, Ralph stands for the humanity and speaks for himself and Piggy in the clearest term saying:
“You pinched Piggy’s specs…You’ve got to give them back…I say! You voted for me for chief. Didn’t you hear the conch? You played a dirty trick—we’d have given you fire if you’d asked for it…You could have had fire whenever you wanted. But you didn’t. You came sneaking up like a thief and stole Piggy’s glasses.” (Golding, 176)
Ralph’s intrepidity is visible even when he is aware that his life in the throes of danger and yet he goes up to Castle Rock to have word with Samneric. The strength of his character is evident from his attitude of not giving up even in stubborn situations. His character strength remains impeccable and doesn’t let him get succumbed to the dark power of savagery. Instead he stands courageously in front of adversities and remains sane in all circumstances. However, he is guilt ridden with the thought that in killing beast he had actually murdered Simon. He avoids this thought and assures himself that nothing has been done wrong. He does not have courage to admit it, even to himself that he has been involved in a killing. To wash away his guilty conscience Ralph keeps lying to himself. Golding reveals the conscience play of Ralph in the story and depicts how Ralph feels about his clean habits:
“He discovered with a little fall of the heart that these were the conditions he took as normal now and that he did not mind” (Golding, 110)
This is evident of the fact that including Ralph every other boy has accepted the truth and is adjusting accordingly in the life on the distant island. Ralph gets nostalgic and traverses the ways down the memory lane remembering his life in past.
“Once following his father from Chatham to Devonport, they had lived in a cottage on the edge of the moors. In the succession of houses that Ralph had known, this one stood out with particular clarity because after that house he had been sent away to school.” Golding says, “When you went to bed there was a bowl of cornflakes with sugar and cream. And the books—they stood on the shelf by the bed, leaning together with always two or three laid flat on top because he had not bothered to put them back properly…” Golding further talks about Ralph’s reminiscence of books and concludes at an eliciting statement, “…. Everything was alright; everything was good-humored and friendly.” (Golding, 112)
These reminisces re-instills the notion that Ralph is still a kid who should be rightfully away from the life full of vicissitudes. His life should be far from pains, troubles, destitution, and struggles that he has been confronting on the island. He misses his city life and the very moment the exciting and adventurous island life turns into a bitter recollection of past.
William Golding has critiqued the World Wars that have made us turn into savage towards fellow humans. He has craftily shown how at any moment of life savage or wild side of human nature can take over our rational self and attack the very premises of morality.
1. Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group. 1954
2. Schwartz, Meredith. Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself: A Critical Examination of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies: March 2000
3. Hafidh, Sumia S. Abdul. William Golding The Loss of Identity in Lord of the Flies. http://www.literature-study-online.com/essays/golding.html