This article appeared in the May 12, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Why ‘Lord of the Flies’ got it wrong

CASTLE ROCK/COLUMBIA PICTURES/Album/Newscom
A scene from the 1990 version of ‘Lord of the Flies.’ A real-life 1960s shipwreck of teenage boys featured a different tale of cooperation and kindness.
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

“Lord of the Flies” is a classic, bestselling 1954 novel about what happens when British boys are shipwrecked on an island. It paints a dark image of humanity – promoted for centuries by politicians, scientists, philosophers, and clerics – that cruelty, selfishness, and violence are instinctive qualities. 

But what if that cynical narrative is just plain wrong? 

In a soon-to-be-released book, Dutch historian and atheist Rutger Bregman directly challenges the William Golding portrait of human nature.

In 1965, six teenage Tongan boys fled their Catholic boarding school, stole a boat, and were soon shipwrecked on a deserted South Pacific island. When they were discovered 15 months later, “the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination,” according to the Australian captain who rescued them.

“Sometimes they quarreled,” writes Mr. Bregman, who interviewed the captain and one of the boys, “but whenever that happened they solved it by imposing a timeout. Their days began and ended with song and prayer.”

In an excerpt from “Humankind: A Hopeful History,” Mr. Bregman writes, “The real Lord of the Flies is a tale of friendship and loyalty; one that illustrates how much stronger we are if we can lean on each other.” 

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This article appeared in the May 12, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 05/12 edition
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