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Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery And Ursula Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

1237 words - 5 pages

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” have long been considered some of the greatest short stories of the twentieth century. They have been compared and contrasted for many years because of the presence of a common major theme: happiness in a community because of a single scapegoat, whether it is the same person or a different one from time to time. Although we can look at the main idea in the story and simply say that both Jackson and Le Guin are feeding us the same primary message, the authors’ approach to the scapegoat thought, the reactions of the fictional populations, and the conclusion that we should identify in each story are quite distinct. These are the aspects I will analyse.
To begin with, we must immediately realize that these are indeed two different stories. However similar the main ideas are, we have to take other pieces into account. After a quick reading of both stories, one notion comes to mind immediately: how do the people react to these atrocities, or do they even react as a whole? I speak, of course, of the feeling of guilt, or to some extent, responsibility. It is not hard to notice that in the case of the people of the unnamed village that practices the lottery, guilt is very rare, but not entirely nonexistent. One of the instances that we realize that some of the citizens in the village might have second thoughts about the lottery is a few hours before the draw, when Mr. Adams tells Old Man Warner “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery” (Jackson 3). However, we are immediately slapped in the face by the elderly man, who ensures us that the lottery is the only civil way to proceed since it has always been like that. Very few people actually question the lottery, simply because they are being kept happy. On the other hand, guilt is completely outlawed from Omelas. That does not mean that the citizens are unaware of the presence of the child sitting in his own excrements; they have all heard of him, or have even gone to see him. In that manner, unlike the people in the aforementioned village, some have actually mulled the option of helping the child, but they know it cannot be done, for the prosperity of the whole city depends on the misery of that one child. Should they proceed with their plan, they would “let guilt within the walls indeed” (Le Guin 4).
Next, every author has his or her own way of approaching an idea or a theme. Thus, the scapegoats in both stories are presented differently and live – or die – differently. Jackon’s scapegoat is chosen by a random draw. Every year, on the 27th of June, a populace-wide lottery is held to determine who is to be stoned that year – an event not to miss. Surely, we have figured out that it is a different scapegoat every time, since each of them dies consecutively. In some way, it is slightly better because not one person has to suffer for too long; the pain is passed around....

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