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The aim of this essay is to discuss the differences and also similarities in two short stories, The Executioners Beautiful Daughter by Angela Carter and The Lottery (1944) by Shirley Jackson. Both of them belong to the classic stories of the Gothic genre and share common features but there is also a significant originality which gives the stories their markedness. The main instrument which creates the feeling characteristic for the Gothic genre is the atmosphere of the story. Both of the discussed stories have a strong aspect of vivid appearance and the story is easily imaginable but the way it is achieved is different.
The diverse atmosphere of the short stories is recognizable from the very beginning. The first different sign is the narration style creating a different impression when reading the stories. While The ExecutionerÊ¼s Beautiful Daughter emanates a distracting signals of something evil right from the beginning The Lottery pictures a joyful spirit and saves the disastrous climax for the end of the short story. This is caused by the style of the description of the story setting. In The ExecutionerÊ¼s Beautiful Daughter there is no positive sign. As the following quotation shows, reading the short story brings a sensation of despair and suffering.
"There is no brightness in the air. Today the sun will not irradiate the heroes of the dark spectacle to which accident and disharmony combined to invite us." (Carter 57)
Also the execution right in the beginning of the short story causes a gloomy feeling, on the other hand, in The Lottery there is a presence of something joyful. The communication of characters and also their expectative behaviour does not predict anything negative, though the reader gets a slight feeling of something important to come. According to the quotation bellow, it all seems like awaiting of some festival or other important event in the life of the society.
"The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 2th. but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner. " (Jackson 426)
An event it is but not a common one. With the ritual sacrifice, being the turning point of the short story, in the end of the short story the atmosphere rapidly turns. Although the characters take it as an ordinary but significant part of their lives, the unexpected brutal ending is horrific for readers living in their common world.
The relationships of the characters in these two short stories are also one of the elements affecting the atmosphere. In The ExecutionerÊ¼s Beautiful Daughter the inhabitants of the village are hostile to each other and their blood lust is clear from their pleasure of the execution. Also their appearance and the described lifestyle is far from peaceful and happy. I seem like the village folk is formed form outcasts of the world which also gives the story itÊ¼s dejection. This society lives in an inhospitable place which also encourages the unhappy atmosphere, as in the following quoation.
"High among the mountains, how wet and cold it is! Chill winds blow soft drifts of rain across these almost perpendicular peaks; the wolf-haunted forest of fir and pine that cloak the lower slopes are groves fit only for the satanic cavortings of a universal Sabbath and a haunting mist pervades the bleak, meagre village rooted so far above quotidian skies a newcomer might not, at first, be able to breathe but only wheeze and choke in this thinnest of air. Newcomers, however, are less frequent apparitions than meteorites and thunderbolts; the villages breathe no welcome." (Carter 59)
In contrast, The Lottery takes place in an ordinary town where people know each other, are part of
the society and they seem to be perfect prototypes of an ordinary townsfolk. In the short story there are described typical activities of normal people, like cooking, taking care of a household or chatting with neighbors. It all looks like an innocent session where no one can be harmed. But it all turns round when the lottery ends and the people go wild. The whole atmosphere of the story suddenly changes. Nothing of the slightly serious atmosphere is left. The story turns into the ritual murder and the human need for violence is revealed, as in this quotation.
"Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar. "Come on," she said. "Hurry up.""
One of the other elements creating the atmospheres of the short stories are the symbols, the executioner with his innocent daughter and the tradition of the lottery as the main ones. The executioner rapes his beautiful and helpless daughter which causes a strong disguise and horror in the eyes of the reader. Gretchen plays the role of the victim and the violation of the innocence itself. The description of the incestuous rape is the last strong percept of something wrong and completely evil. As Hock SoonNg claims, this motive is characteristic for Angela CarterÊ¼s work.
"Many of the depictions of performance/performativity in her narratives are also related to sexuality which, for Carter, is simultaneously a site for transgression against and abject conformity to the patriarchal, heteronormative status quo. Unsurprisingly, then, her writings often revolve around themes and representations of (female) victimhood, sadomasochistic strategies, (symbolic) castration, and the grotesque. " (Ng Soon Hock 413)
The lottery, the rough annual ritual, is the plot of the story but also itÊ¼s main symbol. It simply pictures the human need for blood and violence. In the short story the reader sees the quick change in the peopleÊ¼s behaviour. In a second, they are able to kill their family or friend. Shirley Jackson tried to show that the need for such disturbing acts is in the human nature and it needs a chance to be revealed. Beauchamp compared it to nowadays adrenaline sports.
â€žWhen we read JacksonÊ¼s story, we shudder at the morality of a game that gambles with human life. But why do we not feel the same revulsion at our own blood sports? Many of our lotteries are unnecessary; there is no fixed number who must die. It is possible to rig the odds or to try to eliminate some risks altogether." (Beauchamp 201)
Although the discussed short stories vary in form, plot and also in the selection and elaboration of the topic they both share a high quality. Both descriptions of the atmosphere of the story are very easy to feel and imagine and the chosen symbols fulfill their roles perfectly. The Gothic genre is meant to be scary and disturbing and these two works achieved it with elegance and ease.