Blind Tradition: Character Analysis of Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Sophocles’ “Antigone”
Throughout human development, people have been subjected to multiple instances of unfairness and laws they had to obey. To name a few examples, generations of African Americans were enslaved, while in some countries, women continue fighting for their right to vote. Thus, the stories of oppression are illustrated in global literature as the topic is universal and transcends generations. Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, describes a tradition that takes place in a small town where members draw lottery slips, and the winner is subject to death by stoning as a community sacrifice for good health and harvests. On the other hand, Sophocles’s play, Antigone, narrates the story of two brothers who died fighting for the crown in ancient Greece. After the brothers’ death, a new king is appointed to decide the fate of the brothers, and one is to be honored while the other is to be disgraced. Thus, the theme of breaking free from oppression unites The Lottery and Antigone, while it remains to be discovered whether the characters achieved success in doing so.
Tessie and Antigone
Tessie is cowardly, hypocritical, and insensitive to others’ suffering. As a community member who is against the brutal ritual of the lottery, she does nothing to prevent previous sacrifices until it reaches her turn. As much as Tessie disregards the practice, she is enthusiastic about the procedure, making her a hypocrite and coward. Tessie’s insensitivity to others’ suffering shows when she points to her family, “There’s Don and Eva, make them Take their chance” (Jackson 6), to replace her in being the sacrifice despite being family. Tessie ends up being stoned to death by the villagers, which serves as the morale of the entire story. Even though tradition is essential, following it blindly without questioning can end in a disaster, while people, who seem to be outwardly civilized, can become violent brutes.
On the other hand, Antigone is courageous, strong, and self-sacrificing. From the play’s beginning, Antigone fights for what she believes in despite the danger and consequences of her actions. She is also the one to challenge the authority of Creon by underlining the importance of spiritual rites about the world laws: “The immutable unwritten laws of Heaven. They were not born today nor yesterday; They die not; and none knoweth whence they sprang” (450). Antigone buries her brother, Polyneices, despite the king’s edict to throw his body. Apart from going against the king’s command, she owns up to her actions and awaits the outcome where she ends up committing suicide than being made a prisoner for her honorable act.
Mr. Summers and Creon
Mr. Summers is an insensitive leader who supports the lottery and participates fully in the whole process. Insensitivity to human suffering shows when he seeks to make a new box for the lottery and replace the paper slips with wood chips for convenient continuation. Also, Mr. Summers’s insensitivity shows when he tells the community members, “Guess we better get started, get this over with, so we can go back to work” (Jackson 3). This clearly shows that the above practice is a regular event for him. The character of Mr. Summers is a representation of people not questioning the status quo and following the tradition. It is not explained why it is Mr. Summers who gets to run the lottery nor why villagers are so sure of him. Everyone assuming that he will conduct his work consistently is an inexplicable but universally accepted part of the ritual.
Unlike Mr. Summers, Creon is a self-possessed dictatorial ruler but also shows compassion after reasoning. Creon realizes his mistake of banishing Antigone and goes to release her, but he finds her dead. Despite his lousy leadership, Creon is reasonable and can identify the good from the bad. As he often mentioned himself, Creon is only interested in preserving political and social order in his land and is therefore dedicated to simple ideas of good sense and banal everyday happiness. Even though Antigone has often challenged Creon’s moral and legal authority, we wanted to stick to his main objective of following the rules: “CREON: Ans yet wert bold enough to break the law?” (449) Even though the ways in which he achieves his goals are loathsome, he changes toward the end of the narrative as he admits he was wrong.
Old Man Warner and the Prophet Teiresias
Old man warner is insensitive to others’ suffering, cowardly, and incapable of realizing his mistake. Warner is inflexible to change and calls community members against the tradition “crazy fools” (Jackson 4) despite the cruel ritual. Throughout his lifetime, Warner has participated in seventy-seven lotteries and has always been adamant in his desires for all things to stay the same. He is the collective character that represents older people who are afraid of change even though it is inevitable. He is superstitious and suspicious of younger people who, in his opinion, can ruin his world that is solidly rooted in tradition and the status quo.
On the other hand, Teiresias is protective and courageous when he faces the king, people from high society, and community members on their wrongdoings while warning of the consequences. He is the complete opposite of the Old Man Warner, and even though he is blind, he sees the world around him much better than other people. Because of his gift to know the future, Teiresias experiences disrespect and skepticism, as in the case of Creon: “Teiresias: And yet thou say’st my prophesies are frauds. CREO: Prophets are all money-getting tribe. Teiresias: All kings are all a lucre-loving race” (1050). Thus, deciding to share his wisdom with the world results unfavorably for the prophet while Old Man Warner lives peacefully without ever having to question his beliefs, however harmful and illogical they may be.
The analysis of The Lottery and Antigone has shown that multiple generations have been subjected to unfair laws that seemed unreasonable to obey. The characters of the stories are shown having to either follow strict and illogical traditions that are rooted in superstition or a lack of desire to challenge the status quo. There are characters like Antigone that go against the tradition; however, their contributions alone are not enough to facilitate change. Even though the plots and the endings of the two stories are different, both of them show that being blind and indifferent to the issues that tarnish society leads to disastrous results. Antigone challenges the tradition by deciding to give her dishonored brother a proper burial, and her contribution is remembered while her loss is mourned. Besides, Creon also undergoes important changes for the better as a leader. However, not much changes in The Lottery as the villagers are incapable of understanding the issue with their tradition and continue living according to it. The ritual they established is meaningless and has no actual purpose, but people remain blindly loyal despite turning into brutal murderers.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery and Other Stories. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.
Sophocles. Antigone. ReadHowYouWant, 2008.