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Danger of Traditions

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People have a reason to keep traditions alive. It helps maintain contact with ancestors and serves as self-identification instrument. However, times change, and what is often not considered is that what could be assessed as acceptable earlier ceases to be such. Some traditions refer to the meanest side of human nature as it is well shown in a short story “The Lottery” (1948) by Shirley Jackson. The setting of the story shows the reader a society of a village on the day of the annual lottery. Everybody gathers at the central square to take part in it, and in a few hours with some delays the “winner” is known. A woman who drew a piece of paper with a spot on it gets the “prize” which is being thrown with rocks by the whole village.

Keeping traditions can be regarded as a matter of pride. If a rite becomes obsolete, docile implementation of it makes the social status of people higher. A phrase "Some places have already quit lotteries" told by one of the villagers has a vigorous reception of utter disapproval and implies that it was a shame to do so and that their nameless village stands apart from those modern “blasphemers” in its true “belief” (Jackson 27). Indeed, there are traditions which deserve to be kept and those who understand it are worth respecting and admiring. Such traditions become invisible markers of culture and help understand the lifestyle of people. Nevertheless, what seems quite civil to one group of people might be regarded as barbaric to a stranger’s eye. They say “when in Rome do as the Romans do”. But sometimes these Romans become so hopelessly fixed on what they got accustomed to and cannot see past it, cannot assess it soberly.

In this case, everything can happen, including immoral and illegal actions. In this case, rites become substitutes of critical thinking, and everyone will agree that it is easier to live this way. Why analyze when you can simply follow traditions and justify every foul deed, every sin by it? If the tradition dictates it, it should be a virtue because it is hard to believe that something that has lasted for ages is vicious. And the villagers of Shirley Jackson have no doubts in the righteousness of it. They treat the procedure and all its accessories with almost religious significance. Moreover, they find it hard to conceal their enthusiasm about the resolution of the lottery, like Mrs. Delacroix did when she “selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands” (28). Some tradition disregarding elements deserve recognition, for example, treating the reading of the rules of the lottery as a routine, constant talking during the drawing and the host of the lottery offering to finish it quickly. It can be assessed as simplifying the content of the rite, but everyone was obviously happy to be a part of it and contribute to it. A remark of “giving little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles”, no matter how shocking and wrong it might be, proves the unified character of the events (28). No one gives a minute of thinking to the cruelty of the act which is about to happen. They have all expressed silent conformity with it, because it is sealed with the power of tradition. Not only fiction, but real life gives plenty of similar examples.

Cruelty of people following the rites is striking. But hypocrisy adds to the general impression greatly. Nobody has a doubt that tradition should be kept only if they “lose” the lottery, which is a tremendous relief. And in the opposite case the sanity of the whole procedure is protested against and questioned. Weak Mrs. Hutchinson’s “It isn't fair, it isn't right” before the attack illustrates that she wished it was somebody else, although she had saved her husband from this lot (28). Ironically, this woman has almost missed the lottery, but, obviously, one cannot escape one’s fate.

If a tradition is violent enough, it can become a tool of legal emotional discharge. One of the oldest village residents mentions that “there’s always been a lottery” (27). In such a way, once in a year he and hundreds of his fellowmen had a chance to publicly blame one guiltless person chosen in a fair drawing for all misfortunes that occurred. This attitude actually provokes accumulation of violent ideas with the firm knowledge that soon there would be an outburst. In a frightening way, tradition is not only cruel as it is, it encourages and enhances the surplus of cruelty on a permanent basis. And people need this discharge so desperately and are so unwilling to give it up that places which disregard the rite become laughing stocks. Villages do not understand how one can live without such a tradition, and it is truly scary.

Traditions should unite people and not set them against each other. And if they do not understand that the situation became critical because of firmly keeping belief in the rite, there should be somebody to open their eyes. Blatant cruelty must not be tolerated in this world already exhausted from violence. In every situation one can find a happy medium, and if it is felt that a tradition should not be disregarded altogether, there are always ways to at least adjust it to the modern circumstances. Of course, it is easier to follow the already existing regulations for it lifts the burden of responsibility for any actions. And Shirley Jackson states with her short story that blind faith in rites and traditions can be very dangerous.

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