The Importance of Rules in Thank You Ma’am and The Lottery
Throughout life we come across obstacles that have an impact on our everyday lives. This conflict can leave positive or negative effects on who we are and how the rest of our lives will turn out. These unexpected forks in the road can be seen as a learning experience for the future. In the stories “Thank You Ma’am” and “The Lottery” there is a common theme of abiding by the rules or breaking them. This is a very important topic as both decisions can have various outcomes. We can acquire knowledge from each choice or be left dealing with the consequences if it goes bad. But overall, how can breaking the rules have positive benefits?
Growing up we were taught to follow the rules. In Thank You Ma’am, Langston Hughes considers the ethics of stepping outside the predetermined boundaries set by society. Contrastly, in The Lottery, Shirley Jackson examines the price that can come with following traditional rules. When Roger tries to steal her purse, instead of calling the police, Mrs. Jones makes use of this time as a learning opportunity for the young boy. Mrs. Jones herself had gotten into some trouble when she was younger so it was easy to relate to the boy and the problems that he has going on. She kept in mind that her past experiences have not been much different to that of the boy and because of that Mrs. Jones took a motherly approach to the stealing situation. This was not a traditional approach to remedy the issue of stealing. However, since she had experience with getting in trouble she was understanding of the situation and was able to provide a different perspective that could have a more lasting impact on the boy’s decision to break rules in the future.
Although Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones in Thank You Ma’am appears to be a large and powerful woman who has the ability to wrestle young Roger to the ground, she is a kind and giving soul with a heart of gold. Roger tells Mrs. Jones that he was attempting to steal her purse so he can buy himself shoes, but that was not the real reason which she could sense. Mrs. Jones gives him the $10 anyway and explains that there are other, legal ways to get money besides attempting to steal from others. This was a reality check for Roger and really made him contemplate his decisions. Roger had the opportunity to run out of the house while the door was open but didn’t want to lose the trust he just gained from Mrs. Jones. Once Mrs. Jones was done providing him with everything he needed to survive, Roger now had a different perspective on life. This experience is one that shows how doing something that is perceived as wrong could end up with benefits in the end.
Living comfortably was something that neither Mrs. Jones or Roger were terribly familiar with. Since Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is significantly older than Roger, she has more life experience dealing with this unfortunate reality of living with what you have rather than what you need. She is full of compassion and has an idea of Roger’s circumstances when she meets him with his face is covered in dirt. She gets him to her house tells him to wash his face and then proceeds to feed him after he made her aware that there was nobody home at his house. Mrs. Jones herself was not one of money either, she was living in a boarding house with a bunch of other women. She was serving Roger canned milk, dollar cakes and food out of cans. What the meal was didn’t matter to Roger, he was just happy to be getting something to eat. Mrs. Jones saw the look on his face while he was eating and chose not to pressure him to explain his life story to her. This choice showed how she could respect each individual which helped develop the trust between the characters. As time passes, Roger learns to respect Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones just as she does for him, and is grateful for what she has done for him. Roger walked out of her home with a new look on like and chose a new and improved path for his future.
In The Lottery, the rules were followed but the actions were not traditional. The story took place in a small village where everyone knew of each other. They all gathered together when it was the day of the lottery. The villagers of a small town gathered together in the square, waiting for the lottery to be drawn with anticipation killing them. All families are drawn in, including Mrs. Summers, who was the wife of Mr. Summers, the man who draws the names of the winners. Mr. Summers makes sure the rules of the lottery are clear by stating that he’ll read names and the families have to come up and draw a name. Nobody is allowed to look at their name until everyone has drawn theres. It had been brought to Old Man Warner’s attention that the lottery had been given up in other places surrounding them, but this meant nothing to him, tradition is tradition and it cannot be broken. Tessie drew a piece of paper with a dot on it. When Tessie cried that “it wasn’t fair” the town realized that perhaps the lottery wasn’t as perfect as they all wanted to believe. The black dot meant she was the one who would be getting stoned.
The lottery is usually thought of as being something positive for the winner, but this was not the case. This is a contradiction to what a typical lottery looks like with the winner receiving the opposite of a great prize. Although stoning is a tradition in their society, it is unethical and harmful to the morals of the citizens and what the village stands for. They follow this tradition year after year. The characters like to think that they are carrying out tradition although they remember few details; the box that they are using isn’t the original black box.
The only aspect of the lottery that remains consistent is the violence. Jackson makes this apparent when he says, “Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones” meaning these were the priorities that the people in the village had. This is proving that the villagers may care about tradition but only the parts that they want to. If the excuse was that they had to continue the stoning because it was tradition then they would have put a greater emphasis on the importance of using the same black box.
When the boys gather stones, they are showing signs of typical play behavior, and nothing more was thought of it as it could be seen as a playful action. Tessie’s young son was even given pebbles to throw at her. It did not matter who was throwing the stones or who the target was, all that mattered was that the ritual took place at all. The responsibility of her murder does not lie on one person, everyone is responsible. Everyone played a role whether by encouraging the lottery or by throwing the stones. No one stopped the murder because they wanted to carry out their morbid tradition which makes them all murderers.
Sometimes in life we are faced with challenges that may not be easy to overcome. We can each determine how to deal with these inconveniences in our own ways. In order to do so, you need to work for the result you are hoping for. Both of these texts highlight the different outcomes that can arise from following the rules or what can happen if we choose to follow the crowd. They showed how it is not always best to go with the flow and sometimes rebelling can be a better and more ethical option. This would have been done by someone standing against the stoning in The Lottery which could have saved a life.
The writings also showed that breaking the rules can help bring about a new change as seen in Thank You Ma’am. Stealing is often frowned upon but the boy got lucky and was able to learn a valuable lesson from it. Each piece of literature teaches the audience that there are always choices to make in life and we have to think carefully about each decision. This is what can determine each individual’s future and help people improve their life or hinder what is to come for them. This is all determined by the good choices we make as to whether or not we should conform to society’s set rules or rebel for the greater good.
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