In “The Lottery”

In “The Lottery”, once a year a drawing, the lottery, is held in the village square. The village is an ordinary town of about three hundred people. The citizens are ordinary folks leading ordinary lives. They are neighborly to one another and conduct themselves as if this is just another day. However, we learn at the end of the story that this is no ordinary day for one person, the scapegoat. The lottery chooses which person in the village will be stoned to death. The sacrifice is apparently made in order to appease a god. At the suggestion of eliminating the lottery, Old Man Warner scoffs and quotes an old adage, “Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery.” The implication is that without the lottery the village would have a poor harvest and the citizens would be forced to forage like animals. In the past a lot of pomp and ceremony surrounded the process, almost as if it were an honor to be the chosen one, a martyr for the community. “There was the proper swearing-in of…the official of the lottery; at one time…there had been a recital of some sort…a perfunctory, tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year;….There had been, also, a ritual salute.” However, as the years went by, martyrdom was less fashionable and the townspeople simply accepted the tradition as part of their lot in life. “‘It’s not the way it used to be.’ Old Man Warner said clearly. ‘People ain’t the way they used to be ‘” A sense of reluctance by the people is felt as the story is read, but it doesn’t delay the proceedings. Once someone is chosen, the entire town takes part in stoning him/her, even his/her own children. “And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles. Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now….A stone hit her on the side of the head….Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her .”This ritual sacrificing of the scapegoat takes place year after year for the good of the community, much like the Hebrew tradition.
A similar sacrifice takes place in “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”. Omelas is depicted as almost a utopia. It is as close to a perfect place as you can get, where everything is just right. They can have whatever their hearts desire. The weather is always perfect and the people live their lives without want. “I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don’t hesitate…. I thought at first there were no drugs, but that is puritanical. For those who like it, the faint insistent sweetness of drooz may perfume the ways of the city… A boundless and generous contentment, a magnanimous triumph felt not against some outer enemy but in communion with the finest and fairest in the souls of all men everywhere and the splendor of the world’s summer: this is what swells the hearts of the people of Omelas.”
We learn, however, that this peacefulness comes at a price. In order for the society to remain in bliss, one child must be a scapegoat for the good of the community. This child’s life is sacrificed, not by being put to death, but by being locked in a cellar like an animal. “In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded…. it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and things are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.” Everyone knows about the child, but few talk about it. They are willing to subject this one child to torture in order to protect the community from any suffering or even the normal day to day stress of life. “Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of there makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.”
Like the villagers in “The Lottery”, most citizens of Omelas resolve themselves to the fact that this is just the way life is. Then again there are some, who after seeing the child, can not bear to remain in a city that treats even one child so horrendously. “At times one…does not, in fact, go home at all….The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness….But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.” Unfortunately, the people leaving Omelas have no impact on the fate of the child. They are only able to assuage their own shame and guilt. For the people of Omelas, the scapegoat is a necessary evil, but it is the only evil in their society.
The belief that a single person, a scapegoat, can be sacrificed for the good of the community has a history with deep religious connections. The Hebrews used ‘ez ozel’ and Jesus Christ became the ultimate scapegoat by being crucified for the sins of all humanity. I believe human beings have a need for someone to suffer in order to be happy or even merely content. It allows us to assign blame to another instead of carrying the burden for our own transgressions. Jackson and Le Guin do an excellent job at shedding light on this dark side of humanity with the symbolism of the scapegoat.
I agree that different cultures and society would sacrifice one individual for the better of mankind as a whole. I can understand that rational but in “The Lottery”; it was for the sake of three hundred people. That is just nuts.
However we have seen scapegoats in our own history, such as the Salem Witch trails, Kamikaze fighter jet pilots, and even Jones killed all those people in the name of God. In “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” isolated the child for harmony. Once again for a small group of people. Without evil, one can not recognize good. Without hate, there would be no love. The villagers let the child suffer for peace, and freedom from rules from your fellow man.
You did an excellent job explaining what and how a scapegoat relates to both stories. I also feel that explaining how and what sacrifices are used for to convey your point was a nice added touch.

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