The fair-haired, tall, handsome Ralph is an obvious choice to lead the band of children stranded on the island. He has a "directness" in his manner that the narrator calls a sign of "genuine leadership." As E. M. Forster describes Ralph in an introduction to one of novel's editions, he is "sunny and decent, sensible and considerate." He seems to be genuinely interested in the welfare of the entire group and can get along with all kinds of people. Perhaps he gets his sense of natural authority from his father, a commander in the Navy. He also has above-average powers of observation. He is the first to see the conch shell buried in the sand, though it is significant that it is Piggy who points out how it can be used as a signaling device.
In fact, Ralph is far from the ideal leader, and certainly far from the idealized Ralph in The Coral Island, R. M. Ballantyne's romantic children's story for which Golding intended his book to be a reality check. Ralph lacks the charisma and strategic skills to get the other boys to recognize what the conch represents—order, authority, dialogue, democracy. These are the qualities that are necessary if the group is to keep its signal fire going long enough to attract a passing ship. Golding often notes the "shutter" or cloud that sometimes comes over Ralph's mind when he is addressing the group and that prevents him from finding the right word to get their attention or galvanize them to action. This cloud of imperfection makes Ralph a kind of everyman with whom we can each identify, but it contributes to the gradual descent of the boys into a savagery to which Ralph himself succumbs by the end of the story.