Tradition is a body of beliefs and customs of a social group or society that was accumulated in the past and is being honored and practiced up to the present. Nevertheless, some members of the society deviate and do not honor traditions. While deviation from social norms may create lack of balance and pressure, conformity with tradition will redirect the community and produce harmony. Tradition also comes in different forms. It may exhibit coldness and lack of compassion between the members of the society, but how does tradition define moral rightness if it exhibits lack of compassion? How do people from a community respond to guilt?
The literary pieces of Sheryl Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” fundamentally present two unique stories of responding to tradition. The Crucible is set in a theocratic society, in which the church and the state are one, and the religion is a strict, austere form of Protestantism known as Puritanism (Miller). The strict, established laws express “that everything and everyone belongs to God and the Devil” (Miller). The story starts with a group of girls in Salem experiencing hallucinations and seizures. Strongly influenced by religion, the Massachusetts government rolls into action after being convinced that there is devil worship in the community. To restore community’s purity, a massive witch trial would be held which displays mankind’s capability of cruel acts to protect them. People in Salem base their actions on the desire to protect their respective reputations. They are capable of merciless acts if their reputation would be at stake. As a result, the marginalized characters take advantage of the hysteria to empower and uplift their names. Hidden envy, grudges, and hateful urges become evident since people can accuse their innocent neighbors.
The characters in The Lottery were completely attached to the tradition. All the characters were treated equally whether young or old. Everybody was subjected to follow the tradition. The story is very entertaining and brings great curiosity and bewilderment. However, it presents no social justice at the end.
In the beginning of the story, the setting was vibrant and cheerful, but in the latter part, the evil nature of men’s hypocrisy surfaced. The character of Mrs. Hutchinson is a perfect example of how great evil may exist to everyone. Instead of protecting her daughter, Mrs. Hutchinson demanded her daughter to take part in the lottery to improve her chances of survival. A mother who takes full responsibility from her own flesh and is expected to offer immeasurable love is capable of such evilness. Mrs. Delacroix, who was considered a good friend of Mrs. Hutchinson, “selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands” for Mrs Hutchinson (Jackson). In the tradition, all seemed willing participants, but the fear of death showed their real nature. The fear of change which was also portrayed was evident with their heavy struggle to keep the lottery routine. Old women and men who are assumed to be wise and intelligent seemed to be ignorant and superstitious who blindly followed tradition despite the cost.
The literary piece above show the extent of human nature’s irrational selfishness. The implication is against the supreme value of Christianity. It seems that following their tradition made their conscience and reason weaker. They were so attached in the world that they forgot the importance of divine laws unless people in the community were ignorant of what is eternal. Although the composition of the short story is very unpredictable which makes it amusing, I found some elements of this story distasteful. A reader usually expects justice for the characters at the end of the story, but all of them seemed to be antagonists. In addition, the values being presented in the story are very evil which could make the reader wonder about the dark side of human beings. I believe that all people were created good, but due to influence of worldly desires, humans become selfish. However, the evil side of human beings being presented was so heavy that it no longer appeared realistic. The idea of children, without enough wisdom and understanding, were unconsciously force to follow. All the characters were treated equally without consideration since all were candidates of death. The characters did not consider the resolution of stopping the horrifying tradition, but they focused strictly on how to save themselves from the routine. They were afraid of the unknown and the mysterious danger of stopping the ritual. I cannot see any highlighted value that must be reconsidered. It seems that the people accepted the tradition and they were willing to die for it. In the “The Lottery,” it was purely a story of conforming to tradition.
A Rose for Emily
A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner was created with authentic insights about a woman who can not accept change. Emily was a spinster who was seen as a lonely and impoverished woman who was so attached to the past. It was a beautiful story of a woman that shuts herself off from the rest of the world simply because she cannot accept change. The story is about community versus isolation, unity versus exclusion, fate, death and love unheard. It was also a story of how a person’s life can impact and influence the community.
William Faulkner used descriptive imagery that will challenge the mind of a reader about the culture during that time. The story started with descriptive statements of Emily’s death and flashes back in time that examines the events of her life. The description was so useful to analyze the effects of time and the nature of the past and the present. The narrator tries to deliver his message with the means of flashbacking. The story begins with Emily’s death at the age of 74 and flashes back to the near distant past of Emily’s life. She was a character who was so attached in the tradition of the past that she continually personifies until her death.
Faulkner used the pronoun ‘we’ which tells that the narrator is some of the townspeople sympathizing Emily. It is a well structured and detailed events of Emily’s life the will give a deeper understanding why there is pride and isolation in her character. Emily’s structured character brought her to an unlucky fate. The story tells how Emily copes and accepted the nature of time, change and chance.
Emily’s father who represents the ruling class of the South contributed most in the construction of her pride and arrogance. Emily was raised in an upper class home which made them prominent in the community. She perceived herself as rich and powerful which motivated her poise and bearing. Their position in the community had unconsciously taught her to hold herself high from the surrounding people even after her father’s death. As time passes by, perspective about class and status change. Emily’s house described by the narrator stands for the decay of the society as the watch represents time. People accepted the changes of time and ideas. But Emily who was a complex and well developed character chose not to adapt. This made her a grotesque or unique personality in the setting that encouraged the townspeople to analyze her life. The Negro who was an obedient gardener and cook and who provides Emily’s basic and practical need is also symbolic in the story. This man connects Emily outside her small world. But even his character isolates himself to the community because of fear. Fear of the unknown that he may disclose something about Emily that will disdain his loyalty. But the Negro man unconsciously killed her relationship with the world outside and supported Emily’s violence against herself.
The rose in the story represents affection. It is affection given by the narrator to Emily. Other people may perceive Emily’s pride and violence as something immoral, but the narrator’s point of view towards Emily is different. He clearly sympathize with Emily and understands the reason how Emily constructed such character. The narrator justified her through presenting series of events about her past. She was a victim of bitterness and complete attachment. The community itself during her father’s time constructed her different reality that made her of what she became. I can also suggest that the rose in the story represents Emily’s love for Homer. It represents the soft side of Emily which the outside world can not see. She was perceived differently by the people as a scandalous and proud. But Emily like any other needs love and affection. Her love was violent and harsh though which represents the thorns of the rose.
The narrator gave detailed events of Emily’s history which suggests the gossip nature of the southern town where everyone knows everybody else. In the beginning of the story, the author emphasized those women in town had a different perspective in attending Emily’s funeral. Emily was respected by the men of the town but women were driven by curiosity. This suggests the domestic nature of women that time that seems more concern to the detailed events of Emily’s life. Women wanted to appease their long curiosity. Most of the time ladies in town find Emily’s scandalous and unusual. They find Emily a threat to the community. She was a symbol of the past.
Other reader may perceive this horrifying when the people in town discovered the secret of Emily after her death. She has kept the body of her lover named Homer Baron locked in a separate bedroom after she killed him years before. But the body was not alone. The Northern man had been locked with an embrace since behind the indented pillow was a strand of iron-gray hair of Emily. The dead man had not died without love and attention. It was a horrifying in a way that Homer’s death was not given a social justice. But it was sad for Emily who wanted to give love and be loved but the circumstances and public opinion will no permit her so. The morality of Miss Emily Grierson was not justified in the end of the story. The consequences of her isolation and pride made the townspeople pity her all the more. However, her solitude made her missed significant chances of her happiness. Though destiny and fate is a choice but we must reconsider the factors that influenced Emily’s choices. The narrator was so clever on how he presented Emily not as an antagonist but a woman that has to be sympathized which made me see her as a victim.
The story suggests how modernization and change can affect people. Not all people can enjoy change especially when these people enjoy the comfort of who they are in the past. Like Emily who can not accept change because she was afraid she may not get the same respect that she received before. But as a consequence, she was decline by the people around her. Her pride and arrogance unconsciously affected her choices that define her fate and destiny.
The moral judgment of the characters is based on their own survival and selfish desires.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery”. American Literature Library. 3 October 2008