If only you lived in Regency England, life would be
Did you know that the same year cult novel Lord of the Flies was published, a remarkable psychological experiment took place to test if it could really happen? The story tells of well-brought-up schoolboys who are marooned on an island by a plane crash. Away from civilization they rapidly turn savage – asking: “which is better–to have rules and agree or to hunt and kill?”
1. Writing in the years after the Second World War, William Golding said that the book was partly influenced by his war experiences which made him doubt the goodness of human nature. “Look out,” he said, “the evil is in us all.”
2. His inspiration also came from his job as a teacher to upper-class schoolboys at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury. In his job, he saw every single day just how savage boys could be towards one another!
3. Also in 1954, the notorious Robber’s Cave experiment took place at State Park Oklahoma. The experiment set two groups of 11-year-old boys against each other to see what would happen. Two groups of boys were sent to the camp, each completely unaware of the other group. Stage 1 was designed to get them bond in their own groups, as they chose team names and flags. Stage 2 was designed to introduce them to ‘the other’ group by getting them to compete for prizes in activities such as tent-pitching and tug-of-war. The psychologists recorded that very soon name calling turned to aggression. Teams burned the other team’s flags, ransacked their cabins, fought and stole from one another. In the last stage, the psychologists made the groups work together for a common goal by cutting their water supply. This forced them to share a goal and they began to work together. The study concluded that cooperation towards a common goal can resolve group conflict, indeed by the end the previously warring groups were so friendly that they wanted to ride home on the same bus and one boy spent his prize money on buying malted milks for all!
4. Both the book and the experiment hold cult status even today. The book inspired films and was translated into 26 languages – while the experiment is still used today to explain Conflict Theory.
5. The TV series Lost has many parallels to Lord of the Flies, such as the island, the monster, the leaders and the overweight character – “Piggy” in the novel.
6. Stephen King is a huge fan and used the Lord of the Flies island’s main landmark of “Castle Rock” as a town in many of his novels. He also wrote the introduction to the 2011 edition: “What I keep coming back to is Golding saying, Wouldn’t it be a good idea to write a story about some boys . . . showing how they would really behave. It was a good idea. A very good idea that produced a very good novel, one as exciting, relevant and thought-provoking now as it was when Golding published it in 1954.”