The differences between “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin seem relatively minor when compared to the striking similarities they contain in setting, symbols, and theme. Each of the stories begin with a description of a beautiful summer day. “The flowers were blooming profusely and the grass was richly green”(para 1) in “The Lottery” is quite comparable to “old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees”(para 1) in “… Omelas.
These descriptions (along with several others) provide positive connotations and allow the reader to relax into what eems to be a comfortable setting in either story. Both stories also contain a gathering of townspeople. In “… Omelas there is music, dance, and special attire incorporated in the gathering, whereas in “The Lottery,” the women show up “wearing faded house dresses and sweaters. ” Although Le Guin’s environment seems more festive, all the folks in both stories are coming together for what seems to be enjoyable, even celebratory occasions.
However, I believe the major similarity lies in the fact that these many pleasant details create a facade within each story. The reader is then left ill-prepared when the shocking, brutally violent, ritualistic traditions are exposed. Children are an important focus in both stories. Jackson makes it easy for us to imagine their “boisterous play”(para 2), and Le Guin writes “their high calls rising like swallows’ crossing flights over the music and the singing”(para1). I see these children being used to symbolize perceived states of happiness in both stories.
I also believe they are vital necessities in each story because they are taught and expected to carry traditions into the future. For instance, in “The Lottery,” “someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles”(para 76), he is then able to participate in the stoning of his own mother, and in “… Omelas,” the tradition “is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve”(para 10), and of course, the victim in this tale is a child. The fact that both authors include references to farming may be due to the association between farming and tradition.
I know many people who believe that farming is a way of life that is handed down from generation to generation, it is very much a tradition to them. The men in “The Lottery” are “speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes”(para 3) and in “… Omelas,” the farmer’s market is described as nothing less than “magnificent”(para 3). The most obvious reason for these references is that the rituals performed in both stories are suppose to have an effect on harvest. “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”(para 32) in “The Lottery” used to be a saying heard in their community.
And in “… Omelas,” “the abundance of their harvest”(para 9), along with many other things, supposedly depended upon their performing the certain itual. Although the reasons for the traditions are slightly different in each story, the rituals themselves are very much alike. Both are shocking and both involve the sacrifice of a human being. Because the sacrifice in “The Lottery” is chosen strictly by chance, age is not a determinant, whereas in “… Omelas” the sacrifice is always a child. However, regardless of this difference, when the time comes, victims in each of these tales begins pleading for release from their inevitable doom.
The child in “… Omelas” says “Please let me out. I will be good! (para 8), while in “The Lottery,” Tessie screams, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right”(para 79). In Le Guin’s story, death comes through slow, twisted torture. The naked child sacrifice is locked in a dark cellar room, fed only a small portion of cornmeal and grease once a day, and is allowed no desirable human contact or communication. In “The Lottery” the sacrifice is simply stoned to death by the remaining community, including friends and family, although this isn’t quite as sickening as the method in the other story, it is horrible and wicked nonetheless.
Although it is stated in “… Omelas” that “they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weather of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery,”(para 9) there is evidence that not all agree with it. In fact, after young people see the victim in it’s abhorrent condition, they are described as “shocked and sickened at the sight”(para 10), and “often the young people go home in tears, or in a tearless age”(para 12).
In “The Lottery,” many parts of the ritual had been altered or long forgotten by most of the people, this fact in itself, along with a few other clues tell me that not everyone agrees with it either. One of the characters says “seems like there’s no time at all between lotteries anymore”(para 22), which leads me to believe that she wishes they weren’t performed as often, or at all, and another states that she hopes it’s not one of her friends that is chosen(para 66). Based in part on the afore mentioned statements, I have interpreted the hemes in each story to be identical to one another.
Not only do I believe that many disagree with the practice of both rituals, I also think that the individual feels helpless in putting a stop to them. The actions of each community as a whole seems much greater than the sum of its inhabitants. For example, Le Guin writes that some youngsters and “sometimes also a man or women much older” will walk alone “straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates”(para 14). Instead of standing up and saying they don’t believe the ritual is right, they do what is easier for them, they just leave.
In “The Lottery,” Mrs. Adams mentions to Old Man Warner “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery”(para 31) and that “Some places have already quit the lotteries”(para 33), and he replies as a defender of the ritual by referring to the quitters as a “Pack of crazy fools” and says “There’s always been a lottery”(para 32). Although she doesn’t say it in so many words, I find it obvious that she feels that the ritual is outmoded and should be put to an end.
This in combination with the fact that the majority of townspeople on’t even remember the reasons behind the ritual, has led me to the conclusion that they only continue the process for “tradition’s sake. ” Parallel in these two stories is the fact that certain individuals may feel like it, but no one is able to stand up against the action of their community. It just goes to show that humans are creatures of habit and that sometimes we continue to participate in (or tolerate) harmful practices, simply because as individuals we feel powerless and unable to stand up against societies in which the behaviors have always been accepted.