The Link Between Lord of the Flies and The Stanford Prison Experiment: How Power Turns People into Monsters

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In 1971, Stanford University conducted what is now considered one of the most infamous experiments of all time- The Stanford Prison Experiment. Professor Philip Zimbardo searched for volunteers willing to act as mock prisoners for two weeks in a three-cell jail built by Zimbardo himself, who was looking to study the psychological effects that prison had on both guards and prisoners. Out of upwards of 70 applicants, 24 were chosen, half of them assigned to act as prison guards and the other half to be the prisoners. The experiment was built to be extremely realistic in order to get accurate results, and daily routines included strip searches, uniforms, prison ID numbers, physical punishments and heavy chains bolted on their right ankles at all times.

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The experiment started off soundly, but on only the morning of the second day, the prisoners began to rebel, taking off their uniforms and barricading themselves inside their cells with their beds. Not even 36 hours into the experiment, the first prisoner was released, who was suffering from “acute emotional disturbance”, “disorganized thinking”, “uncontrollable crying”, and “rage”. Quickly after that, the other prisoners began to go a bit mad themselves, doing things such as refusing to eat and crying regularly. What the Stanford “prisoners” experienced is a lot like what the boys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies went through in many ways. Having been trapped on an island and left to their own devices for more time than anybody should be, the boys, and Jack in particular, slowly began to go insane- His peak being when he violently murders one of the other boys with the hunters. As time goes on in the story, Jack’s insecurity in his masculinity, lack of an authority figure and most importantly the maddening solitude he faces on the island eventually results in him losing all sense of morality and control.

From the beginning of the book, it’s clear that Jack is a boy’s boy, obsessed with his masculinity and keeping his status up. The second the boys meet, Jack longs to have control and power over the others. One explanation for this is that he is insecure in himself and his masculinity, scared that the others will look down on him once his status begins to drop or he appears weak. Once he and the choir arrive on the beach, Jack asks, “Where’s the man with the trumpet?” (25) As soon as Ralph tells him there is none, Jack begins longing to fill the position, desperate for control. Along with this, as everyone is introducing themselves and stating their names, Jack says, “Kids’ names,” and, “Why should I be Jack? I’m Merridew”. (27) He sees this island as an opportunity to start fresh with a new identity. Something bigger, better, and more authoritarian. Merridew, a bold and powerful name compared to ‘Jack’, is a perfect way to assert his dominance over his peers and help him achieve this new role of power. When Ralph suggests they “ought to have a chief”, (28) Jack jumps at the opportunity and says, “I ought to be chief”, “because I’m chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp” (28). Since he’s used to being in charge with the choir, he gets frustrated when not awarded the position.

As the story goes on, this need for control and power only intensifies. This is shown most clearly when Jack is hunting. He takes it very seriously, going so far as camouflaging himself with mud, dung and whatever he could find to help him blend in with his environment. As the boys start to get more desperate for rescue, Jack begins to use hunting and killing to assert his dominance and try to gain some higher standing on the island. Not only this, but Jack also believes that his role as a hunter trumps what he considers Ralph’s unnecessary rules. When Ralph is lecturing him and the others about how they’re breaking the rules, Jack says, 'Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong – we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat - !” (130) This tactic works, and it gives him a power trip. Slowly but surely some of the other boys begin to take Jacks side, his confidence and charisma working in his favor. Jack in the other boy’s eyes is the perfect mold for masculinity, and he knows it. He manipulates them from the start, leading them on a path of violence and destruction. The height of this is when the group violently murders a sow, losing any shred of morality and dignity they had left. At this point, hunting wasn’t just about getting food anymore. It was a way for them to exercise their power, causing death and destruction wherever Jack led them. Throughout all these events, there’s a recurring theme with Jack that keeps him going: No one is there to stop him.

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