Traditions are important because they transmit stories, shared values, and aspirations from generation to generation. Traditions offer guidance and assists in a group of people sharing a collective identity. Overtime the origin/meaning of a tradition may become obscured or lost in time, and when that happens the tradition can either fade from existence or be blindly followed even though the original meaning may have been lost. The stories “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, and “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty have many themes, but; one underling theme throughout them all, is tradition.
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In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” Once a year the villagers amass in the center of town to partake in the lottery. They anticipate the arrival of Mr. Summers and the black box, inside the box are slips of paper with one having a black dot. Whoever draws the dot wins and precedes to get stoned to death. The reason behind this is unknown to the villagers, but it is a tradition they are not willing to abandon. According to critics Jackson’s tradition theme is a “modern representation of the primitive annual scapegoat rite… to appease the forces of the new year, to insure fertility. Primitive man, it seems, could not distinguish natural from moral phenomenaâ€¦ Used to be a saying ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” (Lainhoff). The meaning behind the Lottery lost but the villagers refuse to abandon it, simply because it is tradition.
In “A Rose for Emily” a young woman in the early 1900’s refuses to accept change, she did not join the new society and lives in the past. Emily did not acknowledge her father and the colonels’ death, she did not “update” to the new way of living. Emily did not pay taxes and her “house had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street” Emily had become “a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town.” “the difference between the attitude of Judge Stevens (who is over eighty years old) and the attitude of the young man who comes to him about the “smell” at Emily’s place. For the young man (who is a member of the “rising generation”) it is easy. For him, Miss Emily’s world has ceased to exist.” (West). In the end, Emily’s derangement is revealed when the community enters her bedroom and they see “a long strand of iron-gray hair” on the pillow beside Homer Barron’s corpse” when traditions and its values center around hereditary privilege, it will eventually lead to social decay. Emily’s life and her decaying house symbolize the effects of accepting ignorance and complacency when it’s built-in traditions.
Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” shows Phoenix Jackson an elderly woman traveling a treacherous path numerous times in order to get medicine to save her grandson’s life overtime the journey has become a sort of tradition for her. “Like Phoenix, you work all your life to find your way, through all the obstructions and the false appearances and the upsets you may have brought on yourself, to reach a meaning-And finally too, like Phoenix, you have to assume that [you] are working in [the] aid of life, not death.” (Barnhisel). Phoenix is old and near the end of her life, but; like a phoenix she rises. She starts the journey mentally prepared to overcome the obstacles that await her. Her grandson symbolizes the new Phoenix that will be given life when she perishes.
When a traditions’ origin/meaning are no longer known, it begs the question; should the tradition still be followed as in “The Lottery” and that traditions centered around unchecked hereditary privilege may lead to social ruin, like Emily in “A rose for Emily” and that new-found traditions in the service of aiding your loved ones can help you rise above many obstacles like Phoenix in “A Worn Path”. Traditions are a wondrous part of any culture, but; if the meaning is unknown and the ritual goes unchecked should it still be followed?
Lainhoff, Seymour.” The Lottery” Short Stories for Students, vol. 1, Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale Research, 1997.
West, B. Ray,Jr. “A Rose for Emily” Short Stories for Students, vol.6, Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale Research, 1999.
Barnhisel, Greg.” A Worn Path” Short Stories for Students, vol. 2, Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale Research, 1997.
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