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The Lottery by Shiley Jackson and The Scarlet Letter: Themes of Public Shame

1492 words (6 pages) Essay in Literature

18/05/20 Literature Reference this

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Both “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne are ironic because they share a baseline similarity in obvious relation to public shame.  In the story, The Lottery appears to be a normal day in a small town that takes an evil turn after a woman is stoned to death for “winning” the town lottery. Jackson intended the lottery to reflect an old tradition of sacrificing a scapegoat in order to encourage the growth of crops. While Hawthorne intended to reflect punishment for committing adultery in public shaming, by depicting a girl who doesn’t get physically hurt, but emotionally she just gets shamed her whole life.  In Scarlet Letter she has and has to wear the letter A for committing adultery.  Through the authors writing a reader is able to explore many different themes such as the destructive nature of following traditions,  scapegoating,   and the acceptance of violence and punishment through literary elements such as symbolism and archetypes.

After reading chapters 2-4 of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, it reminded me of the story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson because of how the characters acted towards one another. The Scarlet Letter and The Lottery are similar to each other because both the main characters, Hester Prynne and Tessie Hutchinson, were attacked by their neighbors.  While Jackson’s version was physical and Hawthorne’s was more emotional, they both are attacked.  Also, both Hester from The Scarlet Letter and Tessie from The Lottery lived in a place where the townspeople were quick to judge.  They didn’t care about the lives of others and were willing to kill Hester and Tessie.  For example, in chapter 2 of The Scarlet Letter, the women kept gossiping among themselves about how Hester should be severely punished for her sin of adultery and should even be killed for bringing shame to the women.  In The Lottery, the village people were ready to stone to death one of their people just because of a creepy ritual that was still taking place.  This ritual ultimately led to the death of Tessie and the village people’s actions parallel with the townspeople’s in the Scarlet Letter because they just casually killed Tessie even though they all knew her and were friends with her.  I think this shows how some people are so quick to betray their friends or acquaintances just because of a simple or small mistake.

The Lottery it takes a more casual approach towards adversity in society.  Jackson shows us this side of human nature through the town’s casual attitude in respect to the lottery. The men non chelauntly talk about rain, tractors, and taxes. The women gossip and carry on, all while knowing they are about to commit the act of stoning or being stoned (Jackson 1).  Jackson makes it evident that the villagers are desensitized to the violence of their ritual.  “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 1)  Both authors convey violence, inhumanity toward each other, and the belief that someone’s death may actually change or improve the current state of affairs and their future somehow.  What is crazy is that it is far more important for them to hurry and complete the task so they can eat lunch.  They don’t allow themselves to have time to really think it through to let it bother them.  Just for a moment think how frequently in our modern times do we hear that simple phrase, “just hurry up and get it over with”?

In conclusion, the two authors have many similarities but different ways of expressing them.  They both stress the importance of questioning the motives for doing something as opposed to blindly conforming.  The authors also demonstrates not only why society required a scapegoat, but also how human beings are able to justify anything in order to feel no remorse.  The sacrifices in both stories are unimaginable and inhumane.  Hawthorne and Jackson’s writing style and themes are disturbing to think about and will remain relevant and common forever. 

Both “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is ironic because they share a baseline similarity in obvious relation to public shame.  In the story, The Lottery is a normal day in a small town that takes an evil turn after a woman is stoned to death for “winning” the town lottery. Jackson intended the lottery to reflect an old tradition of sacrificing a scapegoat so as to encourage the growth of crops. While Hawthorne intended to reflect punishment for committing adultery in public shaming, by depicting a girl who doesn’t get physically hurt, but emotionally she just gets shamed her whole life.  In Scarlet Letter, she has and has to wear the letter A for committing adultery.  Through the authors writing a reader is able to explore many different themes such as the destructive nature of following traditions,  scapegoating,   and the acceptance of violence and punishment through literary elements such as symbolism and archetypes.

After reading chapters 2-4 of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, it reminded me of the story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson because of how the characters acted towards one another. The Scarlet Letter and The Lottery are similar to each other because both the main characters, Hester Prynne and Tessie Hutchinson, were attacked by their neighbors.  While Jackson’s version was physical and Hawthorne’s was more emotional, they both are attacked. 

In addition both Hester from The Scarlet Letter and Tessie from The Lottery lived in a place where the townspeople were quick to judge.  They didn’t care about the lives of others and were willing to kill Hester and Tessie.  For example, in chapter 2 of The Scarlet Letter, the women kept gossiping among themselves about how Hester should be severely punished for her sin of adultery and should even be killed for bringing shame to the women.  In The Lottery, the village people were ready to stone to death one of their people just because of a creepy ritual that was still taking place.  This ritual ultimately led to the death of Tessie and the village people’s actions parallel with the townspeople’s in the Scarlet Letter because they just casually killed Tessie even though they all knew her and were friends with her.  I think this shows how some people are so quick to betray their friends or acquaintances just because of a simple or small mistake.

The Lottery it takes a more casual approach towards adversity in society.  Jackson shows us this side of human nature through the town’s casual attitude in respect to the lottery. The men non chelauntly talk about rain, tractors, and taxes. The women gossip and carry on, all while knowing they are about to commit the act of stoning or being stoned (Jackson 1).  Jackson makes it evident that the villagers are desensitized to the violence of their ritual.  “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 1)  Both authors convey violence, inhumanity toward each other, and the belief that someone’s death may actually change or improve the current state of affairs and their future somehow.  What is crazy is that it is far more important for them to hurry and complete the task so they can eat lunch.  They don’t allow themselves to have time to really think it through to let it bother them.  Just for a moment think how frequently in our modern times do we hear that simple phrase, “just hurry up and get it over with”?

In conclusion, the two authors have many similarities but different ways of expressing them.  They both stress the importance of questioning the motives for doing something as opposed to blindly conforming.  The authors also demonstrates not only why society required a scapegoat, but also how human beings are able to justify anything in order to feel no remorse.  The sacrifices in both stories are unimaginable and inhumane.  Hawthorne and Jackson’s writing style and themes are disturbing to think about and will remain relevant and common forever.

Works Cited

  • Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.”
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Udon Entertainment, Inc., 2015.
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