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...

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.

In "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson and "Imagine no heaven" by Salman Rushdie, how do the authors perceive this relationship?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Jackson's "The Lottery" and Rushdie's "Imagine no heaven," external forces play a large role in regulating a person's identity.

The external forces that Jackson and Rushdie see as forming people's identity are all-encompassing. Jackson's lottery is inescapable in defining identity. The lottery determines people's opinions of themselves and of one another. Prior to the lottery's results, the entire town seems an ideal of community and cohesion. As the drawing takes place, Mrs. Delacroix and Tessie are chatting congenially with one another as friends do. However, once Tessie's name is chosen, Mrs. Delacroix immediately "selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands." There is no hesitation in Mrs. Delacroix's turning on a friend as she encourages Mrs. Dunbar to do the same. Tessie was a part of the community. Literally and figuratively, she stood with them. Yet, when it is clear that she has the paper with the black dot on it, they move away, surrounding her as she stands in the middle.

In "Imagine no heaven," Rushdie sees religion in the same way. Rushdie sees social construction around religion as culturally and individually defining identity. Rushdie believes that religions set in motion the "wars of the godly against the largely defenceless." Just as the lottery defines human identity in Jackson's short story, Rushdie sees "priests, and the fictions on whose behalf they claim to speak," regulating the way individuals see themselves and other people.

In both works, the external reality that defines individual identity is powerful because no one questions it. Jackson presents a community unwilling to "upset" the town's tradition. Old Man Warner condemns anyone for even suggesting that the lottery should be questioned. In the same way, Rushdie displays the reality of violence that accompanies unquestioned religious fervor:

They are wars of the godly against the largely defenceless—American fundamentalists against pro-choice doctors, Iranian mullahs against their country's Jewish minority, Hindu fundamentalists in Bombay against that city's increasingly fearful Muslims.

Jackson and Rushdie suggest that when external forces are not questioned, a potential for abuse results. Both works are similar in warning of the power of singular forces to regulate and control self-definition.

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The Lottery

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