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The short stories, The Bet, by Anton Chekhov, and The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson, demonstrate the effects of life and existence, tradition and customs, and society and class through different perspectives on these themes of life. Because the characters in the stories experience contrasting perspectives on these similar themes, readers are able to experience similar ideals in two conversing ways.
The notable theme of society and class, throughout the short stories, play a particular role in expressing how one’s place in society can affect their ideals on life, existence and customs. In The Bet, the aspects of society and class are the main contributing factor in the bet that was formed, for a man to willingly give up fifteen years of his life in order to understand and experience whether life in prison was truly more humane than the death penalty, pondering, “Which executioner is more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes, or he who drags the life out of you? (Chekhov 1)”. Because the men in the short story were portrayed as wealthy and successful, with no real experience in solidarity or death, their place in society causes them to make such a decision. On the contrary, society and class do not play such an important role in The Lottery. Because the tradition of The Lottery is a town wide event, every member of their society must play, despite class, wealth, or social ranking. As a result, while the differences of the citizens are not noted throughout the short story, it is certain that on this day of the year, the members are able to come together as one, despite their differences, to enjoy and partake in such a tradition. “”It isn’t fair, it isn’t right!” Mrs Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon here. (Jackson 7)” clarifies that in this society, The Lottery is the fairest thing they could do. For them, not participating, and complaining is unfair to all others who experience it equally, as all others.
Traditions and customs play a major role in the reasoning behind each conflict represented throughout the short stories. In The Bet, customs and ideals begin the decision, as men debate over the topic of death penalty versus life in prison. “They considered that form of punishment out of date, immoral, and unsuitable for Christian states, (Chekhov 1)”. Because of this difference in customs and beliefs, the men decide on a bet to experience which punishment was more agreeable personally. In the beginning of the story, the man who willingly imprisons himself sees life as infinite, and does not see fifteen years as unachievable, believing that he is able to handle anything. Although, under those circumstances, his customs changed him, from an optimistic man with a positive view on life, to a well educated man who has finally understood that these finite details of life, such as class, success, wiseness, and education mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, because everyone will end the same way, in death. Correspondingly, traditions and customs play a similar role in The Lottery. For the citizens of the town, following through with traditions and upholding values that have survived through their towns development is unarguable. With any hint of questioning, people would be looked down upon and punished for considering to go against these customs they hold so dear. “Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box, (Jackson 3)” signifies the strength this town holds in their customs, with no want to change even the slightest of things.
Life and existence is a theme that plays one of the most crucial roles in both short stories, in similar aspects. The Bet shows life through the prisoner’s eyes, as he gains intelligence through philosophy, science, religion, and literature. Although in the beginning of the story, the men value life, and debate which method of punishment is the most humane, by the end of the short story, and his imprisonment, the man is left with the overwhelming realization that what one does in life, despite values, ideals, and steps it took to reach one’s goals, is truly meaningless. Every person will die the same way, despite education, wiseness, or experience. He once says, “I despise freedom and life and health […] I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory and deceptive (Chekhov 5)”. Identically, life and existence in The Lottery is not valued much, shown through the yearly sacrifice of an innocent citizen, a show of union and tradition. The event is shown as almost casual and nonchalant, as children, adults, and elderly gather to watch the annual name picking and beating to death of the “winner”. “Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, choosing the smoothest and roundest stones (Jackson 1)” expresses the normalcy and innocence that the town shows through this taking of a life, even letting the children join and make a game of picking the best rocks.
In conclusion, the short stories, The Bet, by Anton Chekhov, and The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson, are two stories presenting important themes that affect life through opinions, values, and perspectives on further topics. While the stories contrast in many ways, such as the characters opinions on society, class, and certain customs, the two are able to compare as they approach the same ending of the meaning of life and the value of it for others.
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