Tracking a Character: Ralph

By Mayuri Raja, Augusta Tostrud, and Maggie Hohfeler


Kohlberg's Moral Stages

Ralph was never in stages 1, 2, or 3 of Kohlberg's Moral Stages.

Level 2: Conventional Morality (smoothly functioning society)

  • Stage 4: moral actions are those that live up to the expectations of the society

Level 3: Postconventional Morality

  • Stage 5: moral actions are those that follow good laws/duty and support individual rights
  • Stage 6: moral actions are those that help the most people and bring justice

Characteristics of a Leader

  • flexibility: nothing ever goes as planned
  • ability to communicate
  • courage, tenacity, patience
  • humility, honesty, integrity, fairness
  • responsibility


Ralph's Journey

Ralph is the main character of the book and one of the oldest boys on the island. At first, Ralph was an innocent boy who was not necessarily eager to be the leader but accepted the role, thinking it would not be too hard. Ralph, with the common sense of a leader, makes rules and gives structure to the island (assemblies, fire for rescue, huts for shelter). As they spend more and more time on the island, however, the burden of leadership begins to wear Ralph down. He begins longing for his old life where grownups were in charge, and his mind starts to break down-- he starts forgetting things. Through Ralph, we can see the characteristics of a good leader and the effects of leadership on a person over time.


Becoming the Chief

"[Ralph] lifted the conch. 'Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things.'... 'Him with the shell.' 'Ralph! Ralph!'... Ralph raised a hand for silence... 'Who wants me [for chief]?' Every hand outside the choir... was raised immediately... Ralph counted. 'I'm chief then'" (Golding 16).

Adding Some Rules

"[Ralph] went on... 'We can help them to find us. If a ship comes near the island they may not notice us. So we must make smoke on top of the mountain. We must make a fire'" (Golding 26).

Wishing for Another Chief

"Suddenly, pacing by the water, he was overcome with astonishment. He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life... [he remembered] that first enthusiastic exploration as though it were part of a bright childhood, he smiled jeeringly" (Golding 58).
"Ralph considered this and understood. He was vexed to find how little he thought like a grownup and sighed again. The island was getting worse and worse" (Golding 106).
"'I'm frightened. Of us. I want to go home. Oh God, I want to go home'" (Golding 120).

Downsides to Being the Chief: Thinking Required

"The trouble was, if you were a chief you had to think, you had to be wise. And then the occasion slipped by so that you had to grab at a decision. This made you think; because thought was a valuable thing, that got results... Ralph was a specialist in thought now, and could recognize thought in another" (Golding 59).

Downsides to Being the Chief: Too Much Responsibility

"Ralph walked in the rear, thankful to have escaped responsibility for a time" (Golding 78).

Downsides to Being the Chief: Stress

"Ralph turned his hands over and examined them. They were bitten down to the quick though he could not remember when he had restarted this habit nor any time when he indulged it" (Golding 83).

Downsides to Being the Chief: Loss of Memory

"Ralph tried indignantly to remember. There was something good about a fire. Something overwhelmingly good" (Golding 124).

Downsides to Being the Chief: Completely Worn Down

"Ralph looked at him dumbly. For a moment he had a fleeting picture of the strange glamour that had once invested the beaches. But the island was scorched up like dead wood-- Simon was dead-- and Jack had... The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island... Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart..." (Golding 155).


Lost: Jack Shepard the Natural Leader

In Lost, the characters went through a very similar situation that the boys in Lord of the Flies experienced. The characters in Lost survived a plane crash on a mysterious island, where they had no communication with the outside world, they were just waiting to be rescued. Jack Shepard, the protagonist of the series, stepped up to be the leader of the survivors. Although there were times when he didn't necessarily want to be the leader, the others looked up to him and sought him out for guidance. Like Ralph, the role of leadership wore Jack down and he felt like he did't want to have to be responsible for everyone else and make hard decisions for the overall good of the group.

Discussion Questions

1. How did stress affect Ralph's ability as a leader?

2. How does Ralph's leadership compare to Jack's? How are the ways that they lead other similar, and how are they different?

3. How do the deaths of Simon and Piggy affect Ralph's leadership and personality?

4. How would protagonists in other books we have read this year (Guy Montag, Gregor Samsa, Minerva Mirabal) have reacted if they had been put in Ralph's situation?

5. Which other leaders in history have experienced similar negative effects of leadership that Ralph did?

Works Cited

Crain, W.C. "Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development." Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminar. Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminar, 1985. Web. 5 March 2013. <>

"Lord of the Flies: Character Analysis: Ralph." Cliff Notes. Cliff Notes. Web. 5 March 2013.<>

McBean, Bill. "The 5 Characteristics of Great Leaders." Fast Company. Fast Company, 24 January 2013. Web. 5 March 2013. <>

"Leadership - YouTube." YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2013. <>.