The given paper offers an analysis of two works: “Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison and “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. The author considers the similarities of these two stories, as well as their differences. Furthermore, the paper addresses the significance of tradition within the context of both stories. A secondary source from the “The New Yorker” is included in order to make the analysis more informed.
Both stories are fictional. They talk about human brutality and subordination. In addition, both stories speak of violence which occurs randomly, that is, the individuals in both stories do not expect to be downtrodden by others’ aggression. However, they are in the end. The main character of “Battle Royal” is a black man whose ancestors were slaves. He is ashamed of this fact and, in turn, does his best to fit into society. Specifically, he does as prescribed, abiding the white men. To begin with, he is one of the best students in his class, up to the point where he delivers a graduation speech which is considered a great success. He mentions: “It was a triumph for the whole community.” Hence, he is proud. Yet, one memory does not let him enjoy life: that of his dying grandfather. As the grandfather was passing away, he pleaded that his grandson lives with his head “in the lion’s mouth”; pretending to be a servant to the white men, yet one day overthrowing the system and status quo. In fact, this is exactly what the grandson does.
He takes part in a battle royal. There, he delivers his infamous speech. After much shock and psychological trauma he is awarded a scholarship to attend a university. The storyline is absurd, yet it is instilled with much sentiment and tragedy. The black man is servile, he is betraying his deep inner core. He mentions that his graduation speech involves thoughts that are socially praised, but he does not live by these principals, nor does he resonate with them on a deep inner level. In the end of the story, his suffering and pain get him what he wishes, but the price is too high.
The second story, “The Lottery”, describes a small town. There, a regular lottery is taking place. As the events lead up to the climax, one is left wondering what will happen next. Yet, a hint in the beginning of the story tells the reader that it is something about stones (children start gathering stones before the event). The ending reveals to the reader why there was a need in stones. The woman (Mrs. Hutchinson) who “won” the lottery was attacked with rocks.
When it comes to the main characters of both stories, it is apparent that they are not white middle class males. The characters represent the “repressed” members of society: a housewife (in “The Lottery”) and a black man (in “Battle Royal”). As one reads, it becomes evident that women are not equal to men in this story. At one point, Mr. Summer, who is at the head of the lottery and drawing process, asks a women if her son will be drawing instead of the husband. However, the son is under sixteen and, therefore, cannot draw the ticket. It seems like women are considered inferior and not allowed to make certain decisions if a man is available to substitute them.
Now, in the story with the black man, his narrative tells us about his constant attempts to be a good citizen, to serve the white folk; but there is a feeling in this story that his efforts leave him feeling empty, depleted. Furthermore, his grandfather’s will leaves a deeply buried inner conflict within him. On the one hand, he abides the white men and goes by the rules. For this, he is admired and “loved”. Yet, at the end of the day, he still feels like he is pulled apart. In fact, what his grandfather told him to do was contradictory in itself: to be good, yet to protest with vigor and aggression. As a result, the main character is “considered an example of desirable conduct”, just as his grandfather was. Nevertheless, the inner conflict is constantly boiling up inside of him. It feels like he is spiritually drained due to having to play two contradictory roles. One is expressed as obedience to the aggressor (the white man), and the other role leaves him crying for freedom – both inner and outer.
Furthermore, in both stories, characters do not expect that which is forthcoming. As Mrs. Hutchinson heads to the lottery, she is uplifted. In fact, she has forgotten about the lottery while running around the house with errands and remembers about it only upon seeing that her husband and children have left the house. So she heads off to the place where she will be later betrayed and beaten. Betrayed through a tradition which serves to manifest human aggression. As for the black man in “Battle Royal”, he also knows not what to expect. Rather, he is heading to the gathering “of the towns’ leading white citizens” with a feeling of pride. Just like Mrs. Hutchinson, he is uplifted and looking forward to the event. However, he is absolutely unprepared for what comes next. Since what come is a pure expression of human instinct and uncontrollable aggression.
When we take a look at the differences between the two plots, it is apparent that while the black man in “Battle Royale” is completely alone, having no one to protect his rights, Mrs. Hutchinson is surrounded by friends and family, yet, falls prey to brutal tradition anyway. In the end, other people do absolutely nothing to protect the victims of atrocious traditions. The black man and the married working class woman are left deserted, catapulted from society, their needs disregarded, and their identities molded to serve the masses. Yet, one raging difference does exist between the two stories. Mrs. Hutchinson is numbed by the outcome, we know nothing about what happens next; her posttraumatic reaction is concealed from the reader. As for the character of “Battle Royale”, despite screaming traumatization which takes place during the battle, he hangs on to the one positive outcome – his college scholarship.
In his article, Joshua Rothman talks about two movies: “The Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale”. The author explains that in the movie “Battle Royale” there is no positive outcome, no happy end. It is extremely brutal and instinctive. In my opinion, “The Lottery” and “Battle Royale” stories highly reflect this description. Within both plots, no ultimate resolution ensues and even the apparently “positive” ending of “Battle Royale” leaves one feeling as if a bullet just passed right through the heart. It is even more tragic for being so close to reality, when someone who is considered inferior has to slay his body and soul to become part of that society which will never accept him for who he is. There is a strong message hopelessness in these two works.
Both stories speak about tradition which is absurd and tragic. The “Battle Royale” and “The Lottery” show us how certain traditions can crush individualities, reducing peoples’ behaviors to the animal level, leaving nothing, but the primal instinct. Therefore, social order does not always serve to control instincts, but may oftentimes magnify them, putting one individual in the spotlight for others to pour their hidden, shadow nature onto the “chosen one”.
- Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International, 1995. Print.
- Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The Lottery and Other Stories. New York: Farrar, 1991. Print.
- Rothman, Joshua. “The Real Hunger Games: Battle Royale.” The New Yorker, 3 Apr. 2012, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-real-hunger-games-battle-royale. Accessed 30 Sep 2017.