The Lord of the Flies


The Lord of the Flies by William Golding is a novel depicting the depravity of all human beings.  It follows a group of British boys on a journey from civilization to savagery and the ultimate fight for survival.  It explores startling questions about human nature through symbolism.  Ralph and Jack, the protagonist and antagonist, respectively, face off against each other on many occasions.  However, there are striking similarities between these two boys and only a few decisions make them turn out so differently.

Ralph and Jack have similar personalities despite the differences that become apparent by the end.  In the very beginning, both boys arise as the leaders of the group.  They have strong characters and are able to command the boys’ attention.  Ralph and Jack are typical English schoolchildren.  Ralph is ebullient at their newfound freedom, taking the first opportunity to strip off his clothes and go for a swim.  Jack, too, is excited by the lack of an adult presence.  His personality is slightly darker and more arrogant.  He delights in command and enjoys belittling others.  Ralph also has a cruel streak, having great fun making fun of Piggy and revealing Piggy’s nickname to all the boys.  The entire group is united in laughter and in teasing Piggy.  Fundamentally, these two boys are very similar but a few critical traits make all the difference.

Natural leadership is a quality that both boys exhibit but their styles are vastly different.  Ralph starts out very insecure and inexperienced.  The only reason he is chosen chief is because he holds the power of the conch shell.  He calls the boys together, so naturally, they look to him for guidance.  Jack on the other hand has led before, as head boy and head chorister.  He commands his choirboys with an iron fist, refusing to cut any slack even towards Simon.  The main difference between these two boys is their purpose in leadership.  Ralph leads because he wants to be rescued.  He knows that the tasks he sets and his organization are all leading to his goal of getting off the island.  He leads in the best interests of the boys, building shelters, storing water, and maintaining a fire, all make life on the island more bearable.  Piggy’s good sense and intelligent suggestions aid Ralph in keeping his focus as things begin to fall apart.  Jack seeks leadership because he enjoys having power over other people.  By the end, he has absolute power over the tribe.  Jack enforces his rule with fear and the threat of punishment while Ralph seeks the approval of his fellows and tries to make them understand that everything they do is for their own good.

What then is the key difference between Ralph and Jack that make them turn out so differently?  By the end of the novel, Ralph clings to the last vestiges of civilization and society while Jack succumbs to the temptations of savagery.  The differences arise in the choices they make.  Ralph’s capacity for cruelty in the frenzy of the moment is seen when he participates in Simon’s murder.  However, his decision to face his actions rather than deny them shows his maturity and his still substantial hold on civilization.  Ralph, judging from his horrified reaction after Simon is killed, cannot be conditioned to kill because he still lives under the moral expectations of the society he leaves behind.  Jack does become comfortable with murder and his status as chief hunter exacerbates his cruel nature.  He takes his responsibilities very seriously and when he is unable to kill the pig in the beginning, he is severely embarrassed.  Killing becomes an obsession and he is determined to eliminate this weakness.  By the end of the novel, Jack and his tribe, who embody darkness, hunt the only good humanity left on the island, Ralph.

Ralph and Jack are like two sides of the same coin.  Without one, there cannot be the other.  If the situation had been reversed, Ralph would have been the one that went against the norm and refused to follow the chief’s orders.  Contention between the two is inevitable and necessary for the action in the novel.  Both characters are well developed and three-dimensional.  Jack is not all evil, nor is Ralph all good.  These two characters foil each other because their many similarities make the few differences glaringly apparent.  As the novel progresses, they evolve and mature along different paths due to a few critical traits and decisions.  In the end however, they are once again merely schoolboys in the eyes of the naval officer.  Human beings, innately, are all similar.  It is the conditioning of society or the lack thereof that determines a person’s character.