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The Weight of Societal Pressure on Individuals

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Shirley Jackson’s short story and Salman Rushdie’s essay both pass on the message that society is able to impose rules and mindsets that are driven by factors such as religion due to it having a massive following. Individuals in a society avoid going against flow of the society so it is easy to find themselves conforming to something they don’t truly believe in or understand. People will just blindly follow the tradition and culture they are born into without question for fear of persecution by the rest of the group. Shirley Jackson demonstrates this message in the form a short story with symbolism as well as a slow reveal to the reader of what is truly happening in the village in which the story takes place. Salman Rushdie’s essay takes a direct route with absolute statements claiming that the once you are born religion is the first thing introduced to you by society and pressures you to figure out where you belong and what you will do for said group or religion. He states that society places strong intellectual constraints on the individual by forcing religion upon them. Both explain the same issue pushing forth the same message but have different ways of revealing them.

In the Lottery, Shirley Jackson is able to create a society lost in tradition incapable of stopping something they know is wrong because it’s all they have ever known. For as long as they have known, dating back past the oldest man in the village, it was ritual for someone to be chosen at random for sacrifice. As people are born in to this village, that is all they are ever taught so they become desensitized to something they would feel is inherently evil like sacrificing your neighbor for supposed crop growth. It’s best said by Old man Warner: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon,” (Schilb, John, p.700). This implies that the lottery must occur for there to be good harvest and since they have always done the lottery and had good harvest, they correlate the two together and won’t stop for fear of no food as well as fear to go against social flow. Its difficult for people to go against an idea that was brought to them at birth from their society. It can lead isolation and even persecution. The symbols like the black box in the story provide context a bit of context in the story. “There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that preceded it… constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here,” (Schilb, John, p.697). This suggests that the people are clinging on to this tradition from their culture because it is all they have ever known, and it is the only thing that was strictly taught from their society. Helen Nebeker states that even the “chips of wood, now discarded for slips of paper, suggest a preliterate origin” (Nebeker). This further demonstrates that these people have been blindly following a ritual that has existed before people could read or write with little to no understanding of the world around them. That’s what makes the ritual even more absurd as it occurs in a time where people would know better than to rely on sacrifice for harvest as opposed to science, demonstrated when Mr. Adams states, “Some places have already quit lotteries” (Schilb, John, p.700). The people can address the issue, but none stand up to change even though they realize it wrong, even when their friend Tessie Hutcinson begs for it stop. This is caused by group think as well as societal flow. The whole society is based on this lottery; therefore, to question it can be offensive and even dangerous. Few people question their own society although not strongly enough to raise enough concern to change their society to fit their current needs. Jennifer Hicks claims that Shirley Jackson “had the ability to see our present in our past” (Hicks). This means that Jackson wrote this story as a message to show that we have a similar system in our world today that we have yet to realize due to desensitization, normalization, and failure to think outside of what know and what we have been taught just like the people in the village.

In his essay Imagine There’s No Heaven, Salman Rushdie demonstrates how societal pressure of religion on the individual effect his or her way of thinking in rather blunt way making it very clear that it is wrong and affects our countries as well as laws in a bad way. He holds very strong opinions as he is very involved in protesting religion even dragging him into international trouble. According to Merriam Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature, Rushdie “was condemned to death by leading Iranian Muslim clerics in 1989 for allegedly having blasphemed Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses”(Merriam-Webster). This explains his strength in tone when discussing the topic, comparing religion to a prison that not only undermines a person’s strength perceive and understand but one that limit ones thought process entirely. Similarly to Jackson, Rushdie looks at something people are taught the second they come into existence.

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Something that will forevermore influence them, their way of thinking as well as behaving. The only difference with Rushdie is that he very clearly encouraged people specifically the six billionth person alive when he wrote it to actively go against the trained thinking and to see what you would when you actually can think for yourself as opposed to following guidance from religious “dogma.” Rushdie shows how religion is brought into our lives as soon as we can think and how it and its stories (no matter the religion you are taught to follow) brought to you by people of higher power are used to control you. He goes as far to say as it is “inescapable… in the way that jail is” (Rushdie). He clearly views that the religious mindset pressured by society restricts from being able to think and formulate opinions on your own. In an interview with John Banville, Rushdie sees himself battling with people who can view the world through the lens of religion stating that arguments that are used against him (a progressive voice in the Muslim world) are generally “insult, offense, blasphemy, heresy…the battle between the sacred and the profane. And in that war, I’m on the side of the profane” (Banville). He has a set goal which is seen in his tone and use of words in his essay. He argues that the same blind following of religion results issues from war between the countries in the middle east to women being unable to receive abortions or birth control over topics that religion is incorrect about. He demonstrates that the people who argue against birth control even though we are overpopulated are those whose perspective has been cut off by the weight of religion in society. He also expresses this in countries where certain groups are targeted for differing religions and beliefs which inherently goes against the core of the religion itself, yet people are so ensnared in its web that they don’t even realize their position.

The theme and message are what brings these two texts together. Both explain how society places certain beliefs and pressures on to the individual resulting actions that go unquestioned either from fear, ignorance, or both. Both demonstrate how said pressure prevents the individual from being able to stand up and make their own decisions despite knowing what is better for their society. Helen Nebeker while reviewing The Lottery comments “until enough men are touched strongly enough by the horror of their ritualistic, irrational actions…man will never free himself… and is ultimately doomed” (Nebeker). That’s what is shown by Jackson. If the people of the village don’t eventually stand against their customs in realization of its errors systemically then they will be stuck in this loop forever which can eventually result in self-destruction. To counter that, Rushdie is the individual who goes against the nature of society and actively opposes things we were all taught in our society in his essay. Both make it a point that, even though in the current time their texts took place, people understood that certain parts of religion were wrong, yet they continue forth with tradition. They both display this when Mr. Adams say other villages stopped the lotteries, yet they continue and how religions today are wrong about sex health, yet people continue to follow what they say. This blind devout whether driven by fear or just will due to the nature of the society they were born in poses a threat to its people which a constant resurfacing topic in these texts.

The difference between these two texts, beside their execution as well as tones, is that Jackson’s short story acts as a relative warning where the reader needs to find deeper meaning and how to reconnect it back to our current society which can be applied to different scenarios as opposed only religion while Rushdie’s essay acts a call-to-action of sorts encouraging people to follow enlightened philosophers who reached to separate themselves from the church as it condemned you for thinking on your own.

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The Weight of Societal Pressure on Individuals. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-weight-of-societal-pressure-on-individuals/
“The Weight of Societal Pressure on Individuals.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-weight-of-societal-pressure-on-individuals/
The Weight of Societal Pressure on Individuals. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-weight-of-societal-pressure-on-individuals/> [Accessed 1 Feb. 2023].
The Weight of Societal Pressure on Individuals [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2023 Feb 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-weight-of-societal-pressure-on-individuals/
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