Comparing "The Lottery" and "The Hunger Artist"

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Krystyna Powell
Lit 2010
12/04/2012
Outcomes of Rituals
Rituals are a set of actions performed for a symbolic value, such as through sacrifices, traditions in communities, or to manipulate religious symbols. Rituals that are performed as traditions can be seen through the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. In this short story Jackson exemplifies the manner in which the meaning of a ritual can be forgotten while aspects of the ritual are still continued by becoming a civic duty to its participants. Conversely, Franz Kafka’s short story “The Hunger Artist” expresses the opposite of rituals becoming an individual’s civic duty as shown in Jackson’s story. He illustrates how the meaning of rituals dies when that ritual becomes a commercial spectacle to its audience. One story illustrates how a ritual loses its value once its participants view the ritual as their civic duty, whereas the other short story shows a ritual which fades away once the spirit is gone, diminishing its value. The reader is able to see the way factors affect the spirituality of the ritual which in turn determines how long the ritual will last. Rituals hold cultural significance which makes them important because it is the way many cultures are able to get spiritually closer to their god(s). Many rituals are able to last decades and are still practiced in today’s society. For example, Lent is a religious ritual practiced today that is comprised of fasting and giving up a material item for self-denial in the forty days preceding Easter Sunday. Rituals such as Lent tend to last decades because every person that participates is allowed to do so without having to pay a fee. When a monetary value is placed on a ritual, the ritual slowly begins to lose its spirituality and cultural significance to the participants. Additionally, persons in charge of the ritual can at times be seen as contributors to the loss of the spirituality and significance of the ritual. Preservation of spirituality of a ritual is a contributing factor to the reasons why rituals can last for decades. A loss of spirituality can result when a monetary value is placed upon the ritual and participants are forced to pay a fee in order to view and continue the ritual from generation to generation. Once the ritual has lost its value due to the fee placed on it, as in Kafka’s short story, it will turn into a status quo of people that can afford to see it and people who cannot. Kafka states, “While formerly it used to pay very well to stage large exhibitions of this kind under private management, today this is quite impossible… During the later stages subscribers used to sit in specially reserved seats in front of the small barred cage all day long” (713). The status that is now placed on attending this ritual is what begins to lead others away from it. The ritual has now turned into a hassle to continue spending money on which leads the people to lose interest in the ritual and turn their attention elsewhere. Additionally, the commercialization of rituals inevitably leads to its end as the meaning of why someone would want to continue the ritual changes. Kafka is able to use the symbolism of the hunger artist to represent a religious symbol to show the demise of a ritual as a direct result from its commercialization. He states, “Experience had shown that the public’s interest in any town could be stimulated for about forty days by increasing the advertisements, but then the public lost interest, and a substantial drop in attendance was noted; naturally there were small variations in this matter between the different towns and regions, but as a rule forty days was the limit” (Kafka 715). The hunger artist’s ritual of fasting for forty days illustrates the use of fasting to find spiritual fulfillment. This is what the author uses to help the reader see the hunger artist as a religious figure. The author also shows through this quote that the commercialization of this ritual only...
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