…Ralph, from Lord of the Flies. I don’t think there’s a more important, or misunderstood, book pitched at "young adult" level. (To quote my second-favorite fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, the importance of LoTF "is a subject upon which I have sometimes thought of writing a monograph.")

Mostly I like Ralph because there is no character who better epitomizes modern liberalism. He is well-meaning and completely out of his depth, believing that rules and reason can tame the beast that will eventually, inevitably, destroy the island community (and a fair chunk of the island). Not for nothing is Ralph depicted as a tween; his views — as well as Piggy’s — are childlike, and they evolve only through great hardship. Put another way, Ralph has always seemed to me to be the best fictional example of that old saying: a liberal who became a conservative only after being mugged.

And there’s no running from the truth so many teachers gloss over: Ralph is a thoroughly decent young man, the sort of boy destined for great things. He’s also a murderer. And the murder to which he is a party is a murder attributable to his faith in reason and the innate goodness of humanity.

To me, this profound little book is one of the first great chances we have to affect the moral imaginations of young people. There is no doubt that my colleagues in education throw away this opportunity yearly, and as a nation, we suffer. Seeing Ralph as he truly is would be a start.

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