Tradition in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Mending Wall by Robert Frost

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Our traditions act as a compass for our human relationships and personal interactions, the qualitative experiences of our family life, and ultimately, the development of societies. As we honor traditions, so we learn to honor ourselves and each other. The poem “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost and the story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson both contain examples of seemingly senseless traditions. The thought of people doing something senselessly, just to appease the continuance of something that was done by their forefathers seems foolish unless there is some sort of positive result from their actions. The question is what results are positive enough to go through the effort. This means that as time progresses some traditions deserve to fade while others deserve to stay bright even though the reason why may not always be evident.

A grand example of a tradition that deserves to fade with time comes from “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Through this story, one learns that the end result of the lottery, which is played by the town folks, is the death of one of their citizens. There are hints throughout the story to explain why the lottery is played in the town. The most prevalent explanation is given by a character named Old Man Warner who said “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (Jackson 31). This shows the most reasonable explanation for this group’s participation in the tradition, they call the lottery, is to increase the yield of their crops through human sacrifice.

This sounds horrible to the modern ear because human sacrifice is not just frowned upon, it is punishable by the government in most parts of the world. In a less civilized time, however, the sacrifice seems reasonable. Sacrifice one life, once a year, to have a harvest that can feed the town throughout the year. The loss of one for many, when said like this the winner of the lottery should feel lucky to have the opportunity to save the rest of the town from a hard year and increase the overall vitality of the town. Of course, this concept is even more appealing for those who lose the lottery because not only do they get to live, they get to live comfortably.

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