Thesis sentence: Jackson encourages her readers to question their beliefs, their actions, and the world by creating inner struggle with a barbaric act that is accepted by the townspeople in “The Lottery”, but Hawthorne takes a different approach by delving into the inner struggle of his character in “Young Goodman Brown.”
In “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson uses third person narration to describe how accepted events can lead to barbaric consequences when people do not stop to consider their actions. Nathanial Hawthorne also uses third person narration in “Young Goodman Brown,” but he does so in a very different way. The essential difference between the ways that these two stories work is that Jackson attempts to produce a reaction inside the reader while Hawthorne attempts to explain inner conflict by delving into his character’s thoughts. Both authors use their stories to encourage readers to question their beliefs, their actions, and the world around them, but they achieve this goal with differing techniques.
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Jackson never overtly states that the townspeople in her story are nervous about the approaching lottery. Instead she uses subtle hints that slowly create a sense of apprehension in the reader. In the third paragraph of “The Lottery” Jackson describes men as they gather in the town square. The children have already begun stacking stones. The men are talking about everyday matters such as “planting and rain, tractors and taxes,” but Jackson writes that the men “stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed” (par. 2). This short passage shows that something about this day is different than the typical town meetings. Jackson, however, has not revealed the reason that the people are nervous. Jackson continues this game with the reader by increasing the fear when the lottery finally chooses the Hutchinsons and Tessie begins to physically express concern for her life. The only thought that the reader gets about the lottery, though, is Tessie’s scream that “it isn’t fair, it isn’t right” (par. 80). This moment only occurs at the end of the story as the townspeople prepare to kill hers.
Hawthorne takes a less subtle approach to describing the nervousness of Goodman Brown. As Goodman Brown makes his way through the woods, he wonders “what if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!” (par. 9). This is a rather unambiguous expression of fear. After meeting his traveling companion, Brown even begins to talk about his inner struggle by mentioning how their quest conflicts with his scrupples. As they continue walking, they continue their conversation. Goodman reveals his doubts about the initiation that he approaches, but continues on his way at the bequest of his companion, who explains that even the goodliest people in his town have done the same.
These two stories describe fear in very different ways, so it is fitting that they also use different methods to question morality. Goodman Brown’s moral questions are laid before the reader during his conversation with the companion. At times he feels heartened by learning that other people in the community have performed the same rites. At other times, though, he questions whether this can be so. These questions approach the very nature of human beings. In this way, Hawthorne is somewhat more ambiguous than he is in his descriptions of fear. After all, he follows Brown’s thought process as it bounces back and forth. Still, his approach to the question of morality is far less ambiguous than Jackson’s. By the end of the story, Hawthorne writes that “it was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown” (par. 73). This statement comes directly from the narrator. Had a character said as much, then there would be some ambiguity about the moral position of the story. Since it is written by a narrator who has remained reliable throughout the story, the reader can only accept it as truth within the context of the story.
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Jackson, however, uses a different approach to questioning the morality of the townspeople. She creates tension throughout the story that culminates with Tessie’s scream that “it isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” but the writer never comes forward with a solid endorsement of Tessie’s feelings. The reader has the impression that these barbaric events are certainly unfair to Tessie, but that the other people might have a different opinion. After all, what are they to do? They must choose a random sacrifice to ensure the health of their crops. Questioning the morality of this event is similar to a modern person questioning the morality of socioeconomic classes. In some respects, they feel immoral because they randomly put certain people into unfortunate circumstances. On the other hand, what is a person to do? It is simply the way that the world works. Morality and fairness are beside the point in this context. If a moral certitude exits, it does so in the reader, not the story.
“The Lottery” provides an inner struggle within the reader with its shocking ending and question of fairness. “Young Goodman Brown,” however, provides a more involved, direct line of thinking about morality by describing the inner struggle of Goodman Brown. The effect is completely different: Hawthorne essentially tells his readers what is and is not moral while Jackson creates an event that asks the reader to question his or her own sense of morality. For Hawthorne, a moral certitude exists that he can share with readers through the struggles of his title character. Jackson does not approach morality in this way, though, because her story does not have a concrete moral lesson to teach. Instead, it asks the reader to question beliefs, the morality of actions, and the way that the world functions without providing a definite answer. This ambiguity presents a more accurate perspective of the way that today’s world works. Even though Jackson chooses to set her story in a town that feels torn from modernity, it none-the-less approaches group and individual morals from a post-modern perspective that lacks definite answers.
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