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Honorable Leaders of Lord of the Flies (Essay)
By Xuan Chau
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There are certain qualities that define an honorable person, and these qualifications vary from person to person. In William Golding’s novel, The Lord of the Flies, two honorable leaders named Ralph and Jack arise after crashing onto a deserted island, and they must lead their group of boys to safety and rescue. However, being little boys, they also hope to have fun on their own, without the restrictions of adults and society. Although Ralph is chosen leader due to his possession of the powerful conch, Jack earns his honor by providing meat and security for his hunters. Jack goes to great lengths to achieve this right to rule, claiming Ralph has no honorable traits that give him right to leadership. Jack’s definition of an honorable person, which is different from Ralph’s, creates conflict and threatens the potential hope of rescue for all the boys. By characterizing Jack as an honorable person, Golding reveals that by nature, humans are bound to follow a powerful, providing leader that connects to their savage state rather than one with civility.
The difference between Jack and Ralph is clearly seen as they do their job to aid the survival of the boys. Jack, who controls his “hunters”, falls prey more quickly to the excitement and exhilaration one achieves when being forced to survive and showing off one’s capabilities. His commitment towards killing for meat and showing his capabilities as a hunter makes him into an honorable character. However, when Jack goes hunting and leaves the signal fire unattended, a ship passes by and the boys miss a potential chance at being rescued. Ralph goes to tell what Jack has done, and “the two boys faced each other. There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled commonsense” (Golding 71). Even though it was more sensible for Jack to focus on the fire, the “brilliant world of hunting” overpowered the boy’s sense of longing for their home. Jack’s qualities as a hunter makes him appear more honorable and appealing to the boys than Ralph. As Jack apologizes, his followers admire his behavior, thinking “that Jack [had] done the decent thing, had put himself in the right by his generous apology and Ralph, obscurely, in the wrong” (Golding 72). Clearly, even though Ralph is being very sensible, his focus on fire and rescue means little to the boys, who are engaged in Jack’s traits as a powerful hunter. It is easier for the boys, who are becoming more savage, to view Jack as the more honorable leader.
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Jack makes his status as a skilled hunter very obvious to all of the boys on the island by earning his title through his own actions. This is different from Ralph, who has done little to prove that he is a capable leader. Instead, he relies on the conch, which acts as a symbol of power, to enforce his position. When an assembly is called, Jack makes this lack of legitimacy apparent to the other boys. Jack asks the boys, “ ‘Am I a hunter or am I not?’ They nodded, simply. He was a hunter all right. No one doubted that” (Golding 83). The definite answer given by the boys implies that they understand and respect Jack’s role as a hunter, and this is a trait they find honorable and undeniable. However, Jack does not see the same potential in Ralph. Jack implies that he is undeserving of his status, and is simply “sitting there telling people what to do”, and tells him that “you can’t hunt, you can’t sing”(Golding 91). According to Jack, Ralph lacks the skills one needs to be a respected leader like himself. Instead, he expects the boys to follow what he says by “giving order that don’t make any sense”(Golding 91). By Jack’s definition, an honorable person must have the necessary skills, such as hunting, to qualify as a proper chief. Golding further shows how it is easier to perceive a skilled, strong leader as honorable rather than a leader with plain intelligence such as Ralph.
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Jack continues to show how much better a leader he would be than Ralph when another assembly is called regarding the major issue of the beast. Jack courageously calls an assembly without permission, something no one else but Ralph has done. He shows determination and assurance as he continues to deter Ralph from his position. Golding tells how “Jack’s voice went up, tremulous yet determined, pushing against the uncooperative silence... ‘He isn’t a proper chief... He’s a coward himself” (Golding 126). Jack is driven to convince the boys that Ralph is a “coward”, and is therefore unfit for leader. However, Jack shows courage as he strongly protests against the boy’s uncertainty and silence. According to Jack, keeping the boys safe from the dangerous beast demands courage, a quality an honorable leader such as himself possesses. Furthur, Jack relates himself to a strong hunter once again, who is capable of standing up to the beast, unlike Ralph, who is “not a hunter”(Golding 126). Even though Ralph is not a courageous leader, he simply “gives orders and expects people to obey for nothing”(Golding 126). Evidently, Ralph seems to lack the qualities of a powerful chief, while Jack makes up for these deficiencies with his courage. The fact that Jack is a hunter and is able to kill connects to the state of natural violence in human beings. Golding defines an honorable leader as a hunter, who gains legitimacy through one’s skills to survive and protect, over a coward such as Ralph.
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As seen through Jack’s actions, qualities including survival skill, hunting, and bravery, are all necessary for an honorable person. Although Ralph retains enough common sense to focus on the ultimate goal of rescue, the boys cannot view these as honorable traits. Jack makes it increasingly clear to the boys that, because of his skills as a hunter and survivor, that he is more fit to be chief than his competitor Ralph. By throwing away common sense in exchange for excitement and hunting, the boys of the island show it is easier to find certain qualities honorable than others. William Golding reveals that, due to the savage and violent nature of humans, “honorable” qualities of physical power are more prominent than the often underlooked qualities of civility and common intelligence.