Comparison and Contrast of The Lottery and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
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
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
seems 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
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
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
rage"(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
themes 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
don'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.
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