Would Piggy make a good island leader if he were given the chance?
In any group of children, it’s a given that some will be popular and powerful while others will be teased and rejected. In the real world, adults use their authority to control these divisions and maintain a balanced group dynamic. In Lord of the Flies, however, children must fend for themselves and elect their own leader—and Piggy, wise but scorned, is never seriously considered. Though Piggy is intelligent, rational, and innovative, he lacks the charisma and facility with language that both Ralph and Jack possess, traits that the book suggests play crucial roles in establishing their authority. Piggy may have the tactical smarts to be a good leader, but because he cannot convincingly act the role, he would not be able to marshal the boys if given the chance.
Although his contributions often go unappreciated, Piggy comes up with some of the most important innovations on the island. He sees the conch’s potential as a rallying device and firmly believes in its ability to keep operations running smoothly. He understands the importance of taking a census, which the other boys recognize only after the little boy with the mulberry birthmark goes missing and they can’t determine how many other littluns were killed in the fire. Piggy’s glasses provide the spark for the signal fire, metaphorically demonstrating how intellect can spark great progress. The scholarly, sensible Piggy is a born administrator, one who understands how to categorize and effectively utilize information. He also shows surprising personal strength, both in his ability to tolerate the cruel taunts from the other boys, including his supposed friend Ralph, as well as in his willingness to voice the unpleasant truth about the likelihood of rescue.
However, despite these admirable qualities, Piggy is resoundingly unsuccessful on those few occasions in which he does attempt to lead. He stubbornly holds onto outdated customs, such as the use of the conch, long after Ralph and Jack realize that the shell no longer holds sway over the group. Piggy insists on the rules even when the rules are clearly irrelevant, and this stickler attitude, along with his constant speechmaking and self-righteous complaining, drives people away. Ralph and Jack intuitively know how to rally followers, while Piggy seems to repel them relentlessly. Piggy is so unsuccessful, in fact, that he ultimately dies in the act of trying to lead: He is crushed while waving the conch, fruitlessly ordering others to listen to him.
Piggy’s total lack of success in a leadership role suggests that there are significant differences between a “leader” and a “thinker.” Ralph has an aura of poise and capability that wins him trust. His authority is rooted in personality rather than innovation—he relies on Piggy for that—and he understands the importance of rhetoric in winning followers. For example, he speaks in the language of rescue, playing into the boys’ deepest hopes and fears to bolster his hold over them. Jack wields power effectively as well, and boys are drawn to his glamour and charisma. Jack’s leadership is rooted in intimidation, which appeals to the boys once the island turns savage. The boys’ negative reaction to Piggy’s physical unattractiveness emphasizes the role external personas play in establishing command; the boys’ don’t so much reject Piggy because he is ugly, but because he does not know how to play the role of a leader.
Piggy’s failure as a leader points to an important theme of the novel: the failure of civilization in the face of savagery. Piggy represents rationalism and discipline, the very qualities that Jack himself identifies as making “the English . . . the best at everything.” Despite Jack’s initial support of rules and regulations, however, The Lord of the Flies suggests that absent the structures of school, family, and government, which prop up civilization, human beings will always choose anarchy and hedonism over law and order. Piggy represents the wild boys’ strongest link to civilization: Once he is killed, the hope of regaining it is lost forever, and only chaos remains.