Although diverse in their treatment and technique, many stories are about individuals struggling with a complex sets of external forces that regulate and define their lives. The external forces may be represented by laws, religion, tradition and society. Analyze "Two Kinds" by Amy Tan and "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson to see how the authors perceive the relationship between external forces and self-definition. What are their similarities?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Tan's "Two Kinds" and Jackson's "The Lottery," social expectation regulates in self-definition.

Social expectation plays a large role in forming June's identity and in guiding Suyan's hopes for her daughter. Suyuan believes that her daughter can be a child prodigy because, in America, "you could be anything you wanted to be." This mythology is associated with the dream of unlimited hope in America. Aspiring to this standard causes her to embrace a "Shirley Temple" prodigy image for her daughter. At first, June also embraces this external reality in the way she sees herself:

In fact, in the beginning I was just as excited as my mother, maybe even more so. I pictured this prodigy part of me as many different images, and I tried each one on for size. I was a dainty ballerina girl standing by the curtain, waiting to hear the music that would send me floating on my tiptoes. I was like the Christ child lifted out of the straw manger, crying with holy indignity. I was Cinderella stepping from her pumpkin carriage with sparkly cartoon music filling the air.

June and Suyan form their definition of identity in accordance to an external reality. Eventually, June rejects this definition. The hurt this triggers between mother and daughter reflects the zeal with which both allowed something external to influence both of their identities. The social expectation of how people in America are supposed to act regulates June's self-definition, and her mother's hopes for her.

In Jackson's "The Lottery," self-definition is seen in the social expectation of the lottery. The town's tradition defines how people see themselves. Old Man Warner articulates the social importance of the town's ritual:

Pack of crazy fools [people who want to get rid of the lottery]...  Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon... There’s always been a lottery...

The lottery is an embedded part of cultural practice and individual identity. It regulates the way people in the town see themselves. Old Man Warner's beliefs link the lottery to agricultural bounty, social advancement, and cultural practice.

Jackson shows how the people in the town view their own identity in accordance to the lottery. For example, Tessie Hutchinson looked forward to the lottery. She was excited and eager to attend the proceedings. At the story's start, she is joking with other members of the community and even getting laughs when she loudly encourages her husband to get the family's slip of paper from the box. Prior to being selected, she defines herself in a socially prominent way. However, once it is clear that she and her family are selected, Tessie defines herself as a victim. She protests the lottery's procedure. When it is evident that she has been chosen, she defines herself as victim of a unfair and unrighteous practice. Tessie's self-definition is external. It shows the extent to which the lottery defines individuals. 

In both works, social reality plays a significant role in self-definition. External forces regulate the self-perceptions of Suyan, June, and Tessie.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial