Human beings often overlook the horrors of humanity as they neglect the personal wellbeing of others. Ursula Le Guin’s speculative text “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and Shirley Jackson’s dystopian short story “The Lottery” encapsulates the effect of social conformity within a society. Written in the aftermath of World War II and towards the final years of the Vietnam War, Jackson and Le Guin’s works present idyllic societies, yet with a dark twist. Both writers go into great lengths to stress the joyful government of each society and begin their dystopian short stories by depicting an ideal city, leading up to the point in which they introduce the dark secret that secures prosperity throughout the society. One distinct difference between the two texts is the narrative in which it is told. While Le Guin allows her readers to create a society fitting to their limitless imagination, Jackson utilizes a character versus character conflict. Although Le Guin and Jackson’s texts differ in various aspects of their dystopias, their striking similarities outweigh the contradictions.
Le Guin and Jackson present the existence of a scapegoat which authenticates the reality of each society and directs suffering to one individual to ensure stability of the “greater good” for the rest of the population. Le Guin portrays Omelas as the utmost perfect society as the narrator prompts the reader to construct various aspects of the story, making the details of this society dependent on the reader’s judgement. Later, the brilliance of the town begins to seem controversial as the narrator questions, “Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No?” and chooses to invoke credibility with one additional detail (Le Guin). An acknowledged yet isolated child in a basement is left to live in appalling conditions, and is the one catch for those living in perpetual perfection. Every delightful experience of the citizens of Omelas “depends wholly on this child’s abominable misery” (Le Guin). This scapegoat’s existence allow the readers to reflect on the underlying hatred in their lives, as well as the concept of unnecessary blame brought upon others. Furthermore, some decide to walk away from the immoral society while others justify the scapegoat on behalf of tradition, similar to Jackson’s “The Lottery,” in which a dark custom occurs to ensure a successful approaching harvest.
Although Jackson introduces her short story “The Lottery” as more realistic and simplistic, she makes intemperate statements on the welfare of the village and their need for a scapegoat. Similar to Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” Jackson begins her famous gothic story in a simple way as she depicts a town that gathers one morning to participate in an annual activity. The town’s practice is follows the custom of “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (Jackson). This custom presents the necessary death of a townsperson as a sacrifice for a healthy harvest in the future. For the hope of a healthy harvest in the future, the death of a townsperson is necessary. The victim is later identified as Tessie Hutchinson, the established scapegoat of Jackson’s short story. The isolated child in Omelas relates to Tessie Hutchinson, as both are victims of being scapegoated as part of their society’s tradition and practice in return for abiding eminence. Le Guin and Jackson’s short stories demonstrate the willingness of the two distinct societies to inflict suffering upon an individual to validate the wellbeing of the village and portray mankind’s cruel characteristics in an apathetic approach. The reader experiences outrage during Tessie’s stoning in “The Lottery,” as well as in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” and reveal the prevailing concept of scapegoating within the system of socialization. Ultimately, the works of Le Guin and Jackson lead their readers to address the concept of morality within both texts upon acknowledging the scapegoat within each society.
Readers also question the concept of morality behind the idea of the scapegoat in Jackson’s “The Lottery.” With an established victim by the end of the short story, the readers are led towards an unexpected conclusion and away from their expectations as Mrs. Hutchinson is stoned to death by her fellow insouciant villagers. It is evident that the lottery has been hosted for many years because Old Man Warner states that the lottery is the “seventy-seventh year [he’s] been in the lottery” (Jackson). Additionally, this presents the idea that the inhabitants of the town value tradition and ritual with little intention to change tradition, despite the immoral custom. The narrator hints at the failure to determine what’s right and wrong and stresses the danger of blind faith, which is seen in today’s world. It is ubiquitous for people to pray to gods and honor higher powers without factual or concrete evidence of their existence, and are blinded by ignorance in certain practices and tradition. The town participates in the drawing solely for tradition’s sake, leaving their involvement in the practice impulsive and mindless. Jackson’s short story also suggests social conformity, as Tessie Hutchinson has had no problem in participating in the lottery. However, up until the point where she becomes the victim, she exclaims, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right” (Jackson). This unexpected turn of events proves that under pressure, people’s mindsets are prone to change. Lastly, Mrs. Hutchinson serves as an ironic allusion to Anne Hutchinson, a conspicuous individual who became an inspirational figure for religious protestors in colonial America. Just as Anne Hutchinson was banished from the Massachusetts Bay colony for challenging religious affairs and interpretations, Tessie was stoned to death as she challenged the custom and tradition of the lottery.
Similar to Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Le Guin leads her readers to question their own sense of morality as they acknowledge the existence of the scapegoated child in Omelas. Some citizens determine whether or not to “renounce the exploitation of others” that “justifies their comfortable life” or to “walk away from the town” (Le Guin). Although some acquiesce to the scapegoated and confined child, others walk away, unwilling to accept the disturbing crime. The townspeople in “The Lottery” who do not question their actions, whereas those of Omelas, the few people with a moral conscience and integrity not only question their ethics, they reject them by leaving the community. However, some citizens view the poor child’s treatment and question the morality of their society. Those who walk away do so in darkness and risk living in incognizant existence. This ultimately proposes the notion of morality within the readers once again as the audience questions their own sense of virtue as they consider their own decisions under such conditions.
The recurring motif of a scapegoat in both dystopias serve as an appropriate way to refer to today’s society. Dystopian literature constantly reveals dark objectives within the human race and mankind’s truest flaws, as seen through Le Guin and Jackson’s works. Human beings selfishly allow others to take responsibility for their wrongdoings, and would occasionally choose to have them suffer if it meant they could continue their lives in pure bliss and perfection. Tradition in “The Lottery” is blindly engaged by the villagers in a terrifying yet realistic way. In “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” the citizens willingly sacrifice the wellbeing of an individual in an effort to sustain utter perfection, only understanding that happiness comes with suffering and pain. As seen in the Holocaust and slavery, the concept of scapegoats is unrestricted, and readers redefine their own moral conscience through Le Guin and Jackson’s work. In conclusion, we must learn how to take responsibility for our own actions, whether it be righteous or immoral.