Ralph represents leadership, the properly socialized and civilized young man. He is attractive, charismatic, and decently intelligent. He demonstrates obvious common sense. Ralph is the one who conceives the meeting place, the fire, and the huts. He synthesizes and applies Piggy's intellectualism, and he recognizes the false fears and superstitions as barriers to their survival. He is a diplomat and a natural leader.
Ralph's capacity for leadership is evident from the very beginning (he is the only elected leader of the boys). During the crisis caused by the sight of the dead paratrooper on the mountain, Ralph is able to proceed with both sense and caution. He works vigilantly to keep the group's focus on the hope for rescue. When the time comes to investigate the castle rock, Ralph takes the lead alone, despite his fear of the so-called beast. Even in this tense moment, politeness is his default. When Simon mumbles that he doesn't believe in the beast, Ralph "answered him politely, as if agreeing about the weather." British culture is famed for civilized reserve in emotional times. By the standards of the society he's left behind, Ralph is a gentleman.
Having started with a schoolboy's romantic attitude toward anticipated "adventures" on the island, Ralph eventually loses his excitement about their independence and longs for the comfort of the familiar. He indulges in images of home, recollections of the peaceful life of cereal and cream and children's books he had once known. He fantasizes about bathing and grooming. Ralph's earlier life had been civilized, and he brought to the island innocent expectations and confidence until certain experiences informed his naiveté and destroyed his innocence. As he gains experience with the assemblies, the forum for civilized discourse, he loses faith in them. "Don't we love meetings?" Ralph says bitterly, frustrated that only a few of the boys actually follow through on their plans.
Over time, Ralph starts to lose his power of organized thought, such as when he struggles to develop an agenda for the meeting but finds himself lost in an inarticulate maze of vague thoughts. Ralph's loss of verbal ability bodes ill for the group because his authority lies in the platform, the symbol of collective governance and problem solving where verbal communication is the primary tool. Ralph's mental workings are subject to the same decay as his clothing; both are frayed by the rigors of the primitive life. Yet in response to the crisis of the lost rescue opportunity, Ralph demonstrates his capacities as a conceptual thinker.
When "[w]ith a convulsion of the mind, Ralph discovered dirt and decay," he is symbolically discovering humankind's dark side. At the same time, he has learned that intellect, reason, sensitivity, and empathy are the tools for holding the evil at bay. Ralph's awareness is evident when, realizing the difficulty of this lifestyle in contrast to his initial impression of its glamour, he "smiled jeeringly," as an adult might look back with cynicism on the ideals held as a youth.
Although he becomes worn down by the hardships and fears of primitive life and is gradually infected by the savagery of the other boys, Ralph is the only character who identifies Simon's death as murder and has a realistic, unvarnished view of his participation. He feels both loathing and excitement over the kill he witnessed. Once Ralph becomes prey, he realizes that he is an outcast "Cos I had some sense" — not just common sense but a sense of his identity as a civilized person, a sense of the particular morality that had governed the boys' culture back home.
When Ralph encounters the officer on the beach at the end of the book, he is not relieved at being rescued from a certain grisly death but discomforted over "his filthy appearance," an indication that his civility had endured his ordeal. In exchange for his innocence, he has gained an understanding of humankind's natural character, an understanding not heretofore available to him: that evil is universally present in all people and requires a constant resistance by the intellect that was Piggy, by the mysticism and spiritualism that was Simon, and by the hopes and dreams that are his.