Compare and Contrast The Lottery and The Rocking Horse Winner Essay

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I. The dangers of conformity is the main theme of both D.H. Lawrence’s short story “The Rocking-Horse Winner” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”

A. Although these stories were written in different times and places and describe different characters and events, they converge on the main theme of conformity to irrelevant or harmful social norms.

B. Both Lawrence and Jackson use literary devices like symbolism, irony, and characterization to convey the theme of conformity.

II. Characterization is central to both of these short stories, helping to show how weakness and lack of self-awareness lead to blind conformity, causing suffering and even death.

A. The mother in “The Rocking Horse Winner” is like Bill Hutchinson in “The Lottery,” even though the latter could have prevented his wife’s death.

B. Tessie and Paul are both sacrificial lambs, although Tessie does realize the stupidity of the social rules governing the community.

III. The authors use irony to anchor the theme, and make their short stories more poignant.

A. “The Lottery” is ironic in the way rigidity is juxtaposed with a desire to change.

B. “The Rocking Horse Winner” is ironic in that Paul rides a fake horse to pick numbers for the real horse races, but the winnings are as superficial as a rocking horse.

IV. Symbolism helps to show how conformity is ultimately destructive.

A. The rocking horse is a powerful symbol representing how material pursuits are false.

B. The stones and the black box symbolize resistance to change and mystery, respectively.

V. Both Jackson and Lawrence do a stellar job of blending symbolism, irony, and characterization in their short stories denouncing blind conformity to antiquated values.

When Winning is Losing

Literature often reveals the profound paradoxes of life, the ironies that befuddle human beings and make human societies complex and contradictory. Short stories can achieve their thematic goals even more poignantly than longer format prose. In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” winning the titular game means essentially losing the biggest game of all: one’s life, one’s right to live. Winning the lottery equals death. Likewise, in D.H. Lawrence’s short story, “The Rocking Horse Winner,” winning at the horse races also leads to death. Their different plots and themes belie the similarities between these two short stories, as both “The Lottery” and “The Rocking Horse Winner” use irony, symbolism, and characterization to convey the theme of conformity.

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The main theme of both “The Lottery” and “The Rocking Horse Winner” is related to social pressure and conformity, as both Jackson and Lawrence warn readers of the price paid for blind submission to social norms. In D.H. Lawrence’s short story, the protagonist is a woman who has succumbed to the social pressures of materialism. The family has a profound lack of appreciation for the material goods they do have, squandering their hard earned money on needless items, while bemoaning what they do not have. In fact, the narrator notes that the family’s income is “not nearly enough for the social position which they had to keep up,” emphasizing the theme of conformity in Lawrence’s story (1). Thus, the theme of “The Rocking Horse Winner” is not just about the inability of money to bring happiness, but more broadly, of the ways social norms and pressure to conform can constrain wellbeing. Similarly, “The Lottery” is also about the pitfalls of conformity, including sacrificing one’s own humanity. Jackson shows that ascribing to a ridiculous, outmoded, and barbaric game serves no purpose other than to perpetuate fear in the community. A husband actually allows his wife to be stoned to death in public simply for the ritual, never questioning its validity or its relevance. Death is the result of loveless, selfish, ignorant obedience to unjust laws.

Characterization is also a key to developing the theme of how conformity cripples human consciousness in both these short stories. In “The Rocking Horse Winner,” the mother remains unnamed, as if to highlight how much her identity has been obliterated by her sheepishness. She is described in the opening passage of the story as being someone born with privileges: she is beautiful, and had “all….....

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Jackson, S. (1948). The lottery.

Lawrence, D.H. (1926). The rocking-horse winner.

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