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“Lottery” and “The Story of an Hour”

Human society is based on traditions and relationships, which are oftentimes irrational and destructive. In their stories, Shirley Jackson and Kate Chopin focus on darker aspects of human nature, which reveal in the process of social communication. “Story of an Hour” deals with limitations that a marriage imposes on a woman, which leads to her total annihilation as a personality. The characters of the two stories share the same idea irrationality and limitations of freedom but the authors raise different themes and choose different settings.

Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” focuses on one hour in the life of Mrs. Mallard who suddenly receives notification about her husband’s death in a train accident. To much of her shock, she realizes that she is not that unhappy about being a widow, on the contrary, she feels relieved. Her marriage was oppressing for years, so she feels like in prison in the house of her loving husband. Despite her mixed feelings and guilt, she cannot help feeling progressively glad and happy when thinking what she can do with her freedom. She is not going to be confined to the household and her role as a wife; the whole world will be at her disposal. She has about an hour to indulge in her dreams but then her happiness is suddenly broken when her husband comes back, safe and sound. Since, Mrs. Mallard has heart disease, she cannot cope with her emotions and dies, so everyone believes that this is caused by sudden news. As a researcher puts it, it is the story of "submission of a young woman to someone else's will. It can also be read as a criticism of marriage itself, as an institution that traps women" (Toth 10).

In the same way, “Lottery” ends up with a tragedy, when Tess Hutchinson dies stones by her fellow countryman. Yet, the reasons that lead to the characters’ death are different and so are the themes raised by the authors. While Kate Chopin focuses on the institution of marriage and gender roles, Shirley Jackson has a broader social context, which includes family, tradition, generations, the social and the primitive as part of human nature. “The Story of an Hour” explores life of an individual heroine, while “Lottery” is a story about the rules of social groups’ functioning at all levels. Its plot describes a peculiar lottery, which takes place in a small village of three hundred people, which ends with a ritual stoning of the lottery’s “winner”, which is a totally random person. The ritual "is used by the local citizens to pick a sacrificial victim as means of ensuring a successful harvest. The use of ritual killing connects the story with the culture of witchcraft" (March-Russell 195). Despite the fact that the tradition is absolutely outrageous, people continue to follow it every year for unknown reasons. Moreover, neighboring towns do the same, which turns the case from an individual to the social one. Apparently, Mrs Mallard’s marriage is not an individual example too because it signifies the role of women in a marriage and their desperate situation. Yet, it still focuses on one side of the conflict, while “Lottery” deals with the whole network of relationships and bonds.

At the same time, there is one aspect in common between the themes raised in the two stories, which is annihilation of family as a social institution. In “Lottery” one can think at the beginning that family is extremely important to the village’s inhabitants and that the bond between them is quite tight. Family names sound all throughout the process of lot taking and this is done by participants on behalf of their households. Moreover, this bond is reinforced by the idea that the descendants of the participants also were involved in this regular event, which seems to treat family in historical aspect too. Yet, the idea is totally shattered at the end of the story when the ominous matter of the lottery is revealed. In the face of the death, people appear to demonstrate their darker aspects because survival comes first. Tess is the unlucky one, but she is not an innocent victim either, as she would be glad to pass her lot to other family members. So, family loses its original significance, instincts come before bonds. In the same way, “The Story of an Hour” deals with the disintegration of the original idea of marriage that had to be a union of two loving people. However, society dictates certain rules that appear to be deadly for marriage. As a result, it turns into slavery and convention, as it happens to Mrs. Mallard. The reader does not know if she initially loved her husband or not, the fact is that society is a ruthless machine, which shatters family.

Another aspect of the two stories to be compared is the setting, which is quite different in each case. Thus, “The Story of an Hour” focuses on inner world of the main character and on her freedom’s limitation. Due to this, the author chooses to get her confined to her house in terms of the setting with a window of her room being the only connection to the great world full of opportunities: “There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the window… she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window” (Chopin). Thus, the setting of the story underlines the character’s isolation from the rest of the world, which is contrasted with her hope symbolized by a window.

The setting of “Lottery” is different because it deals with a different message, which is closely related to social hierarchy and communication. This is why the events take place in the open air, in the village square. The square symbolizes the central role that the lottery plays in the life of the people, and underlines the aspect of a ritual. Traditionally, central squares are the setting for festive and ceremonial events like holidays. So, on the one hand, the setting is used by the author to demonstrate that the lottery is a common tradition that is interesting to everyone, yet on the other hand the way how people gather for it like for a holiday is contrasted with the following dark essence of the tradition: “The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock… 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). The mentioning of dinner is so conventional but this becomes ominous by the end of the story because murder is so common that people can walk home and have dinner peacefully after that.

Finally, it is worth discussing how the two authors picture their characters, which obviously contributes to the overall message of the story. In this respect, as has been previously mentioned, Kate Chopin deals with one main character; Mrs. Mallard focuses on her thoughts and emotions, which reveal her inner world to the reader. The point of view of omniscient author is quite relevant because of this, as it makes the third person narration feel like the first-person one at times. Besides, it adds a confessional touch to the whole story, although time of narration is very limited, so the characteristic is quite condensed. The main heroine is ill because of her psychological issues related to her unhappy marriage. She might be unhappy not because of her husband but because of the lack of freedom that she feels. As a result, readers can see a twisted kind of personality in her, when she appears to be glad because of her husband’s death. She is unable to set herself free otherwise.

In contrast, “Lottery” deals with a group of characters, although the author focuses on several ones in turns. The manner of characterization that Shirley Jackson has is quite different from the one of Kate Chopin: he does not focus on the feelings and thoughts that characters have, describing only the external façade of character’s behavior. Besides, it is worth saying that her characters like Mr. Summers, Mr. Graves, Old Man Warner are not exactly positioned as individual characters but rather as symbols for certain social aspects. At the same time, despite the differences, both stories deal with dark and irrational sides of human natures, which characters reveal under extreme circumstances. This fact suggests that all people are ambivalent and that the good and the evil are present in any of them in a certain proportion.

In conclusion, it would be true to say that the two stories cover different themes though they are united by the aspect of family institution annihilation. The settings are different; while Jackson focuses on a social aspect, Chopin deals with the individual story. Finally, “Lottery” has characters which are symbolic rather than representing people, while “The Story of an Hour” explores psychological state and transformation of a single character.