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Comparative Literature - "The Lottery" vs. "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"

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  • June 2007
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When comparing Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and Ursula le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas", it is important to note that the two short stories are based upon suffering, its morality and consequences. Both pieces revolve around the agony experienced by one person in order to enhance the lives of many; turning a blind eye to the horrors of humanity for the greater good of all affected people.

In "The Lottery", Jackson utilizes a character vs. character conflict to publicly display the concept of having a scapegoat – someone to be discarded after absorbing the sins of the entire community. In the story, Mrs. Hutchinson is randomly chosen by way of the lottery to become the sacrifice. Once it was determined that she was, in fact, the chosen one, she was stoned to death by everyone in the district. The slaughter was sweeping, conventional and welcomed by the people – they accepted what they were doing and saw their actions as an all-around "good". This killing is contrary to the scapegoating incident in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas", where the victim is hidden rather than publicly broadcast, alone and overlooked, disregarded by the people of the community. In this story, those in the commune are ashamed of having someone suffer for their sake and choose to ignore what they know is wrong. The small child, miserable in the dark cellar of some beautiful structure, is a sign of the evil in their otherwise perfect community, an evil that they refuse to admit is there. The child is not antagonized by those in the society, but by the society itself. In either case, both stories see an idyllic community do harm to an innocent victim as sacrifice for the benefit of all and rationale the morally repugnant act as being "necessary".

Is it wrong to accept the fruit of someone else's suffering? Are human beings able to ignore their own internal moral compasses as the torture intensifies to the point where it is no longer endurable? Is it really...