William Golding’s tale of schoolboys cast away on a Pacific island after a nuclear attack has inspired dystopias as disparate as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Ender’s Game, and Lost. Since the 1954 publication of The Lord of the Flies, this provocative story of children who, as Joyce Carol Oates put it, “replicate the worst of their elders’ heritage of ignorance, violence, and warfare” illustrates how quickly civility can revert to bloodthirsty savagery. The Lord of the Flies outlines the cruelties even “innocent” children will inflict when fear reigns. As one boy says: “Which is better—to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?” Such questions have spawned an industry of young-adult morality tales where child soldiers, child assassins, and child saviors battle it out for the survival of democracy—and of kindness, mercy, and love.
Why are such dark stories popular with young adults? How do they reflect the current views on politics, the economy, and the environment? What does The Lord of the Flies teach us about the roles young people can play in combating chaos, tyranny, and paranoia? This Curriculum Conversation will address these questions as we explore and grapple with a text that has engaged readers for generations.