The protagonist of Lord of the Flies is Ralph. Ralph’s narrative opens and closes the novel, while his position as chief makes him a central inciting force. Ralph’s motivation throughout the book is to maintain order and civility, and to keep a signal fire lit in hopes of being rescued, but he is regularly thwarted by the antagonist Jack and the potential for evil inherent in mankind. While Ralph and Jack start the book as friends and near equals, they devolve into mortal enemies, each one representing an opposing form of leadership. Jack’s savage nature and embrace of violence clashes with Ralph’s focus on long-term survival, as represented by his insistence on building shelters and maintaining the signal fire. While Ralph attempts to appease Jack in the beginning by allowing him to control his hunters, eventually he grows frustrated by Jack’s shortsightedness. Ralph’s goal is to maintain order and work towards rescue. Although Jack appears to agree on this goal, his actions obstruct Ralph from attaining his goal. Ralph’s decision to challenge Jack proves a crucial plot point, as the tensions between the two boys result in the formation of two separate, warring tribes.
While Ralph proves in many ways a thoughtful, charismatic, and effective leader, his leadership is flawed by his indecision and inability to think clearly in crucial moments. Ralph’s confusion in decisive moments proves too great a weakness for him to maintain his leadership peacefully. Ralph’s unwillingness to resort to fear tactics and violence to lead the boys also makes him ultimately ineffective as a leader. As the protagonist, Ralph represents both the possibilities and limitations of democracy. Ralph is only effective as a leader as long as the boys voluntarily follow his command. Because they aren’t afraid of the consequences of rebelling against Ralph, the boys are quick to leave his tribe and join forces with Jack. In this way, the very qualities that make Ralph a natural leader in the beginning lead to his downfall. By the end of the book, Ralph has changed from a confident, charismatic leader to a frightened, hunted outcast.