Reflections on Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery' and Ursula Le Guin's 'The One Who Walks Away from Omelas’

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The parable is widely used in literature. Centuries ago, it was used only as a religious didactic story, but today the writers want to give a lesson for people hiding it under the cover of a nice story. Reading ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson and ‘The One Who Walks Away from Omelas’ by Ursula Le Guin, I was expecting the sweet and kind stories; the ending of both was an unpleasant surprise to me. The authors clearly used parables as a way to illustrate how spoilt our society is. In ‘The Lottery’ the author definitely used the irony; beginning to read we expect a winner and happiness from the luck, but what we get is a wild and crazy annual event that I can’t even comprehend. The aim of it is to pick the pieces of paper from a black box and so-called winner (who is definitely not a lucky one) is killed with stones by all the members of the community to provide a good harvest next year. A warm sunny day of 27th of July, playing children and happy people create a contrast to a tension that flies in the air and desire to end the lottery as soon as possible. The lottery itself is the tradition that takes place every year and all the 300 citizens of the city know the rules. One man even tells that it is his 77th lottery. The lottery itself is a symbol of traditions that exist in our society, passed down from time immemorial. We celebrate hundreds of holidays annually, some people don’t even know about the origin and meaning of them, following them because everyone does. The community of the village is afraid of giving up the lottery, even though northern villages already did it. The reader does not know if the sacrifice and bloodshed were justified (no murder can be justified). What if not? People don’t know whether it helps or not. They have always blindly believed without even trying to live at least one year without it; the northern villages are some kind of coward apostolate. What was meant by the lottery? Is it the traditions or religion? Was it an intention to show that people’s faith is not as pure as it may seem? The black box from which people draw their pieces of paper is very old and shabby, but the community is against refreshing it, it’s like some kind of relic that shouldn’t be touched.

The atmosphere in the story is odd. The story begins with kids, who are playing with stones, collecting them; everyone is relaxed and busy with their everyday affairs. The reader expects something positive and sweet, but not the wild murder that is not even perceived as something horrible. The striking fact is that throwing stones is not necessary for everyone, the participation is free, but every citizen does it; even innocent children that were playing a moment before. The absurdity of the situation is intensified by the fact that the people that were sweet talking to Mrs. Hutchkinson now are furiously killing her. I had strong feelings rereading it. Every detail looked different because the innocent kids’ game with stones turned out to be a preparation for the terrifying events. The tension between people before the lottery is not because of the anticipation to get a prize sooner. The murder of the woman is not even a sacrifice; it’s evil for the sake of common advantage. I cannot justify it.

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The characters in ‘The Lottery’ have names, while in ‘The One Who Walks Away from Omelas’ do not, they are mainly generalized into two groups – the first are happy people and the second are the ones who can’t be happy understanding how dreadful is basing the wealth on the misery. They don’t accept any sacrifice. Omelas is a truly utopian city. Every single citizen of it is extremely happy and free to do whatever he wants. The beginning of the story resembles the beginning of ‘The Lottery’, but it is more intense, brighter and even abnormal. Everything got mixed in an insane mess– the sun, grass, singing children, drums, horses; it makes head spinning. The reader cannot imagine what hides behind this lively picture - child, who lives in a dark and dirty basement. Everyone knows about it and must be sure that he suffers. More suffering means more happiness for citizens. It reminds me of Jesus Christ, who suffered to save mankind. At least this story avoids the bloodshed like the ‘The Lottery’. I don’t fully understand why this particular child was chosen. Who had the right to define his fate and make him suffer? The child sometimes screams, “I will be good…Please let me out. I will be good!” (Le Guin, Ursula, 128). He doesn’t want to be a scapegoat.

In ‘The Lottery’ everyone was responsible to pick a piece of paper to choose the destiny and not even for once. The volunteered or forced sacrifice is a pretty popular plot-point in the literature. The first example that came to my mind is ‘The Lord of Flies’, where Simon involuntary sacrificed his life; his death opened eyes to kids that there is no monster on the island scaring them to death and turning them into the savage animals. Billy Budd in Herman Melville’s novel is another great example. His sacrifice was made because of the will of the community, which reminds me of the death of Mrs. Hutchkinson.

In our modern world, the word ‘sacrifice’ is mostly associated with heroism. Giving life for the others is the bravest thing a person can do. I can mention hundreds of heroes’ names that have saved thousands of lives sacrificing their own. Heroes are just around us, they saved people during the attacks of 09/11, protected kids during shootings and terrorist attacks. Sacrificing traces back to pagan times and then could be observed in the Bible. The modern society also uses sacrificing but in a more humane way. For example, the rich countries exploit the poor ones. They buy raw materials for the low price, avoiding the environmental contamination in their own territories. Developed countries import the products of industrial livestock raising, despite the fact that this industry causes huge water pollution and greenhouse gas emission. Everyone knows that it is unfair and the exploited countries are in the unbeneficial position, but nobody cares if it doesn’t affect them directly. It definitely reminds us of these two stories; the misery of ones for the benefits of the rest.

Works Cited

  1. Jackson, Shirley ‘The Lottery’. Introduction to Literature. Russell. Boston: Pearson, 2008. 105-112.
  2. Le Guin, Ursula. “The One Who Walks Away From Omelas”. Introduction to Literature. Russell. Boston: Pearson, 2008. 124-129.
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Reflections on Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ and Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The One Who Walks Away from Omelas’. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from
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