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A Comparative Analysis of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

Instructions for Paper:

  • You will be writing a typed (double-spaced) comparison/contrast essay on two stories. It will consist of 4-5 pages
  • The paper is to be written in MLA Documentation Style.
  • You are required to quote at least once from each of the stories that you intend to compare and contrast.
  • Introduce each story by author’s full name and title in your first paragraph.
  • Do not simply retell the story, or stories.

 

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A Comparative Analysis Essay

Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings strike readers with deep symbolism and thematic content. Jackson offers a realistic condemnation of blind faith in old traditions while Marquez’s short mystical story is laced with mockery of human prejudices. The criticism of the universal human flaws in two works is compared in terms of their plots, settings, themes and characters.

Although Jackson and Marquez focus on the flaws of human nature, the authors resort to different approaches to narration. Jackson begins the story describing the regular public event and the light-hearted atmosphere of the town festivity. The assembly in the place of public gatherings starts with the appearance of children followed by adults who speak the following “of planting and rain, tractors and taxes” and greet “one another and exchanged bits of gossip” (Jackson). The author clearly suggests that the lottery is a significant part of the community’s life since it gives a chance for the pleasant socialization. The cheerful and pleasant conversations are soon interrupted by preparation for the familiar ritual and the established procedure. Upon the delivery of the necessary equipment, Mr. Summers, a local social activist, reads the names of families, the members of which choose a paper from the black box (Jackson). A winner is a person who gets a paper with the black spot and is stoned to death by the town dwellers (Jackson). The present winner, Tessie Hutchinson, desperately pleads for help but receives none from her husband and other numerous witnesses (Jackson). At that moment, the casual atmosphere of the event appears deceiving, as the readers are likely to become aware of the dreadful conclusion only at the end of the story. Therefore, Jackson deliberately avoids explaining the purpose of the ritual until the moment of culmination in order to raise the readers’ interest.

Conversely, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings is created on a strong feeling of mystery in order to keep the interest of the audience. The mystery allows the author to create the atmosphere of secrecy and anticipation. The story begins with the appearance of a strange man with huge wings at the doorsteps of a poor family’s house (Marquez). Despite “his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather,” the “dirty and half-plucked” wings instantly made the man a popular curiosity and a subject of humiliating treatment (Marquez). While the local minister unsuccessfully tries to establish the creature’s divine origin, the family holds him in captivity for several months and became wealthy by putting him on display for the thrilled audience (Marquez). The story ends with the man’s recovery and departure (Marquez). Moreover, Marquez depicts the disruption of daily routine in a small village caused by the arrival of a curious creature. However, the author fails to provide the readers with his background, origin or a point of destination while leaving the issue of man’s true nature a mystery. The absence of an immediate answer to the puzzle helps to sustain the audience’s attention and evokes much speculations about the symbolic meaning of the story. Evidently, Marquez and Jackson apply different approaches to narration to produce a desirable effect on the readers.

Similarly, there is a significant difference between the main characters. In this way, all heroes of The Lottery appear realistic and earth-bound. Jackson portrays the community of the adherent traditionalists by providing the sufficient amount of details about their background and personalities. For instance, Mr. Summers “was a round-faced, jovial man,” a successful businessperson and unlucky husband (Jackson). The description suggests that Mr. Summers derives his pleasure from possession of high social status and performance of the public service. The reference to the unhappy marriage indicates the meaningfulness of personal relations in the lives of the town-dwellers. The assertion proves to be valid as it relates to other characters of the story. For instance, Bill Hutchinson chooses to uphold the old tradition of capital punishment by stoning rather than defend his wife (Jackson). The adherence to the social norms appears to be deeply embedded in the minds of Jackson’s heroes. Therefore, meeting social expectations is a distinguishable, if not dominating, feature of these characters.

Marquez, on the other hand, focuses on the fate of the alleged angel. The author depicts him in an extremely ambiguous manner since the character exhibits the traits of both human and magical being. The contradiction is aimed at creating a deep connection between the two sides of the main character. Faulkner explains that the discrepancy between the vision of the omnipotent angel and the old man with peculiar physical deviations is a stylistic technique used to create the atmosphere of uncertainty (333). At the same time, the readers may form a relation to the poor captive while discovering his resemblance to the ordinary human being (Faulkner 332). The implementation of magical elements seems to be a necessary condition for facilitating the reactions from members of the local community. Indeed, the evidence strongly suggests that both authors have created the vividly realistic and supernatural characters.

Despite these differences, two stories share the common settings of time and place. The Lottery and A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings do not contain any references to a particular time and place. Jackson’s work is a third-person narration about a particular day from the life of a small community. The author describes the conduct of the lottery in a small town of 300 inhabitants on June 27 (Jackson). Similarly, Marquez’s hero appears in a seaside village “on the third day of rain.” The absence of any clear indications of time and place makes it harder to place the characters in the particular historical period and geographical location. The assertion suggests that these events have a universal meaning since they could happen anywhere at any time in the course of history. Therefore, the heroes of both stories embody the universal traits of character.

In fact, the renowned writers focus on the common theme of depicting human ignorance. Marquez, in particular, focuses on common prejudices. The author shows the gravity of human flaws by depicting their responses to the arrival of the unknown creature:

The parish priest had his first suspicion of an imposter when he saw that he did not understand the language of the God or know how to greet His ministers… He reminded that the devil had a bad habit of making use of carnival tricks in order to confuse the unwary… Farther Gonzaga held back the crowd’s frivolities with formulas of maidservant aspirations while awaiting the arrival of the final judgement on the nature of the captive. (Marquez)

The priest seems to be highly unqualified for examination of the supernatural being with the huge wings. Farther Gonzaga is eager to hide his ignorance behind the prejudiced warnings and dependent on the instructions of his superiors. Meanwhile, the crowd demonstrates the same dreadful limitations of their imagination by suggesting different ideas regarding the future of the old man. In an extremely ironic manner, the author mentions making the main character “mayor of the world,” promoting him “to the rank of five-star general” and implanting “the earth with a race of the winged wise man who could take charge of the universe” (Marquez). Faulkner attributes the absurdity of assumptions to the lack of knowledge about the stranger as well as uncertainty about his nature (332-333). The textual evidence strongly indicates that deep ignorance and false logic make the crowd form the misguided and ridiculous suggestions.

The Lottery, in its turn, concentrates on the desperate clinging to old traditions. Jackson stresses the absence of valid reasons to preserve the conduct of the lottery as the means of undeserved punishment. Gibson argues that the ritual of stoning may relate to the ancient religious traditions (193-194). According to the Book of Joshua, the enemy of the Israeli, Achan the son of Zerah, was stoned to death for defeating the Israeli tribes according to Joshua’s covenant with God (Gibson 194). However, despite the obvious parallelism between situations, the lottery lacks the moral righteousness of the Biblical story. The winners are selected by chance while the religious significance of the ritual is forgotten (Jackson). Therefore, the further adherence to tradition seems pointless and morally wrong. The assertion is manifested in the last words of Tessie Hutchinson, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right” (Jackson). Moreover, the local community refuses to admit the reality of pressing need for changes as a number of the neighboring towns have abandoned the practice of capital punishment (Jackson). The presented findings clearly reveal that strict adherence to the immoral and purposeless traditions signifies misplaced stubbornness and dreadful ignorance. Evidently, both authors deal with the common theme of human imperfections rendering ignorance as one of the gravest flaws.

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In conclusion, both authors offer vivid and strong condemnations of human shortcomings. The renowned writers treat the inclinations to prejudices and adherence to the outdated customs as features of barbarism. The uniqueness of both short stories may be attributed to richness and distinguishing features of their symbolic imageries and literary merits.

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