Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Lord of the Flies

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Compare and contrast the characters of Jack and Ralph and the way that the rivalry between them develops in the course of the novel.

In the novel ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding, Jack and Ralph are two significant characters presented to the reader. Although they cooperatively work together in the beginning, they are many distinct, differing aspects of their personalities. This contrast gradually develops into rivalry, which shape many of the events that follow.

One of the similar qualities of the boys’ characteristics is their natural leadership skills. After the party realized they were stranded on a deserted island without the presence of adults, all were bewildered about what was to follow. However, Jack and Ralph were able to create a society modeled on the world of civilized adults to continue their existence. This includes the building of huts as shelters, calling regular assemblies. Ralph’s discovery of a conch which he utilizes to gather the stray boys at the beginning of the novel symbolizes his leadership. Similarly, Jack’s leadership is symbolized by his excellent ability to hunt pigs and absolute control over his ‘hunters’. The leadership qualities which Jack and Ralph share is suggested by the manner the littleuns view them during their first assembly

‘… The most obvious leader was Jack. But there was a stillness about Ralph as he sat there that marked him out … and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there was the conch.’


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Another comparison between the qualities of Jack and Ralph are their surrender to the evil within their hearts at one point during the novel. The first indication that Jack is obeying his inner weakness is his uncanny obsession with hunting. His actions and thoughts are filled with the ‘seductive, maddening promise of meat’ of the pigs that inhabit the island. The primitive nature and actions of Jack is highlighted by his eager participation in the tribal and ritualistic dances resembling the hunting of the pig. Although Ralph struggles to submit to his inner corruption, one incident within the novel portrays his savage instincts overpower him. During a stormy night on the beach, Ralph loses all common sense and attachment with civilization to join the pack mentality of a tribal dance with Jack and his ‘hunters’. In the darkness, they mistook Simon for the beast and killed him as part of the ritual.

‘Piggy and Ralph, under the threat of the sky, found themselves eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society.’

Jack and Ralph have many contrasting factors of their personalities. From the beginning of the novel, Ralph tries to hang onto the old ways of the civilized, outside world within the society the boys created on the deserted island. This is symbolized by his emotional attachment to the signal fire, which is the only link they have with the adult world and sole chance of rescue. This is illustrated in the intensity of Ralph’s words ‘We’ve got to make smoke up there - or die.’ His distaste towards the long hair and worn clothing of the boys suggest his disgust towards ‘dirt and decay’. However, soon ‘things fall apart’ in association with the absence of adults. Although Ralph is powerless to stop this process, he does his best to maintain law and order while their society crumbles. This is suggested by Ralph repeatedly calling assemblies. ‘This meeting must not be fun. But business.’

On the other hand, Jack does not value orderly civilization and rational sense. Instead he pursues his own animal instincts which lead him onto the path of savagery. Jack tries to eradicate all forms of connections with the outside world and encourages the obeying of one’s evil desires. This is suggested by Jack’s fixation with hunting and killing. ‘He tried to convey the compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up.’ Jack’s savagery is further emphasized when he starts applying war paint onto his face. ‘…His sinewy body held up mask that drew their eyes and appalled them… behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.’

The savage character of Jack and sensible nature of Ralph is contrasted. ‘There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled commonsense.’

Another contrast in the characters of Ralph and Jack are their varied development throughout the novel. Ralph changes minimally but Jack underwent a significant transformation. At the beginning of the novel, both Ralph and Jack respected law and order and agreed to shape their society around rules. The boys had many ideas to improve conditions on the island as well as having wild adventures. Jack’s words ‘We’ll have rules! …Lots of rules!’ suggest the boys’ eagerness to conform to discipline and regulations.

Throughout the course of the novel, Ralph retains his strong belief for the necessity of civilized approaches to all problems. He maintains high hopes of rescue and firmly rejects savagery. This is suggested in his refusal to participate in hunting expeditions and constructive work he carries out such as building shelters. Although Ralph surrenders to evil during the tribal dance where Simon was killed, he regains his commonsense the next day.

On the other hand, Jack changes dramatically. At the beginning of the novel, his words ‘After all, we’re not savages. We’re English. And the English is best at everything.’ ironically contrasts with what actually happens. ‘ His mind was crowed with memories… knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.’ Away from a civilized society, the evil within his heart dominates him. He acts his emotions out through the routinely killing of pigs. The chant ‘Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood’ indicates the madness that possessed Jack. Jack’s acts and thoughts of savagery is further suggested by his participation in the ritualistic dances which eventually leads to the death of Simon. Throughout the novel, Jack’s progressive movement to savagery is hinted through symbolism. Jack’s disregard of the conch symbolizes his challenge against authority and adoption of the name ‘Chief’ symbolizes further primitive behaviour.

Throughout the course of the novel, the rivalry between Jack and Ralph gradually develops as their personalities begin to split in different directions. When they first met, the boys had established promising signs of friendship and cooperation with one another. ‘Jack and Ralph smiled at each other with shy liking.’

As order on the island deteriorated, Jack’s surrender to the ‘Lord of the Flies’ and Ralph’s growing attachment to the signal fire increased their rivalry. ‘I was talking about smoke. Don’t you want to be rescued? All you can talk about is pig, pig, pig!’ This is suggested when Ralph was greatly infuriated by the action of Jack neglecting the signal fire to go on a hunting expedition. Ralph’s rage also targeted Jack for their shattered opportunity of rescue as a ship was spotted in the waters surrounding the island. At the same time, Jack is exasperated at Ralph’s obsession with the fire. This was the turning point of their relationship when their tension openly commenced.

The rivalry between Ralph and Jack developed to the stage where it breaks the unity of their group. Jack chose to leave Ralph’s group to create his own tribe focused on hunting activities. ‘I’m going off by myself. He can catch his own pigs. Anyone who wants to hunt when I do can come too.’ Gradually Jack gains most of Ralph’s supporters. With advantage in strength due to greater numbers, Jack displays antagonism towards Ralph by harassing his group in a series of raids. Ralph and Jack’s tribe have their first physical conflict.

The climax of the rivalry between the two boys occurs when Jack decides to utilize his tribe to track down and ultimately kill Ralph. Jack’s savagery and antagonism towards Ralph reaches its peak as his desires to hurt his opponent overpowered him. ‘These painted savages would go further and further. Then there was that indefinable connection between himself and Jack; who therefore would never let him alone; never.’

In conclusion, the comparison between the personalities of Jack and Ralph are their natural leadership qualities and surrender to the ‘Lord of the Flies’ at one point in the novel. The contrast refers to Ralph’s sensible character as opposed to the savage nature of jack and their different rates of development throughout the novel. The differing aspects of their personality eventually lead to their rivalry.


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