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Welcome to Lord of the Flies

by Hallie Gordon

Dear Friends:
Steppenwolf for Young Adults dedicated last season to Now Is The Time, a citywide call to action against youth violence and intolerance. Throughout this season, we continue this conversation through a different lens asking the question, “When the game turns deadly, how will you play?”
At least in part, growing up means learning to understand that you occupy a world of repercussions. As one grows into adulthood, one learns how to navigate an ethical landscape, one where each choice can have lasting, even devastating consequences.

In Lord of the Flies, we witness a group of British school boys ‘come of age’ amidst extreme circumstances. Initially the boys’ behavior on the island feels more like an elaborate game than anything serious or dangerous, but soon the boys split into two factions, and their game quickly transforms into one of rivalry, tribalism and violence. As the story unfolds, savage behavior overtakes these boys and a new, barbaric code of conduct displaces the civility and rules they arrived with. Out of this, a predatory version of morality crowds out any sense of justice or compassion as the boys navigate the brutality of their choices.
It is tempting to think, “But I am not like the boys in this story. I could never do what they do. I’m a good person!” But one need only look to history to find many–distressingly many– examples of seemingly good people behaving badly. Looking at these examples, the question then becomes, “Why do otherwise decent and well-intended people engage in evil behavior?” Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University, hypothesizes that any person, when placed under the right set of pressures, is capable of evil behavior. In Lord of the Flies, it begins the moment the boys become stranded on the island without adult guidance. For a more in-depth look at why good people engage in evil actions, please see page 18 of the program as well as our current study guide available at
This season, I’m interested in investigating personal accountability and examining who we are at our core when things turn bleak. When life demands more of us than we can take, how do we play? How do you play? Join Steppenwolf for Young Adults this season as we enter a world both real and virtual.