The themes that I have connected with the most in the study of 1984, Slaughterhouse Five and The Lottery were those dealing with the tragedy of the absurdity of our society. These novels showed us how easy it is to manipulate us and how little we do to stop such manipulation. The reason why it is so easy seems clear; we are in denial because we want to hide the tragic realities from ourselves.
In Slaughterhouse Five not only are the American soldiers treated like animals to be slaughtered, they will be slaughtered in the same way that their own army seeks to slaughter the enemy during the Allied bombing of Dresden in World War II. There is a lot of comparing of situations, rather than confronting the darkness or the horror of terrorizing families. The American soldiers are stuck in a boxcar; the guards are able to go home to die in the comfort of their homes with their families.
In “The Lottery” the reality of the meeting is at first obscured. It seems like a picnic or joyful gathering. The details are all there, if you know to look for them, but somehow you can only see them after the fact. We treat much of what is going on in the world and in our communities in this way; we disguise the realities so that we can find them bearable, but it does not change the outcome. The people continue to participate despite the horror. Like Orwell, language is used to disguise the true reality; calling it a lottery sounds like something that you would want to win.
Orwell’s novel 1984 is the most chilling of the three. Every part of life was monitored, even thoughts. Every decision was controlled. When Winston, tortured and exhausted, finally says two plus two equals five we realize that it could be any of us agreeing to total government control for our own safety. It reminds us how quickly we can come to think of an absurd situation as normal. In less than fifteen years since the events of 9/11 the Western world has restricted liberties and freedoms in order to protect people and their freedom. Is that any different?
Confronting society and its absurdity when faced with dark realities is difficult, and we are afraid. Are we so different today? There is immense suffering in the world. There is enormous disparity of income and poverty. Life in the oceans is dying at an incredible rate; despite the fact that most of our oxygen comes from marine life we carry on as if nothing was wrong. Ebola recently threatened the West Africa and potentially the globe. When such things go wrong and should call us to action, instead we feel fear .The response seems to be a retreat into that which is safe and irrelevant, and in so doing we allow the situation to continue. So it goes.