How can you compare and contrast Joyce's "Araby" and Jackson's "The Lottery?"

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The experience of initial hope is an integral part of both Joyce's short story and Jackson's narrative of small town life.  In both works, there is an exposition of intense hope.  The narrator in "Araby" speaks to a world where there is a sense of dullness and banality, but this does not impact him.  His perceptions of the world around him are filled with the zeal of innocence.  The "imperturbable faces" of the adults were matched by the child- like joy of being in the world:

The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses, where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness.

In Joyce's world, there is a sense of enthusiasm in being that could transcend a world of "ashpits" and "feeble lanterns."  In much the same way, Jackson opens her description of the town with a sense of idealism.  There is an innocence in how the town gathers together for their yearly "ritual."  The opening sentence of the story articulates a natural beauty that one presumes is shared within the consciousness of the townspeople: "The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green."  In the expositions of both stories, there is hope and a sense of what can be permeating both the narrative and the characters in it.

I think that a similar experience of disenchantment is evident as the narratives of both stories progress.  In Joyce's "Araby," the enthusiasm that initially opened the narrative is dislodged by its ending.  The narrator's quest for courtly love and to embrace a sense of the transcendental is undercut with the harshness and callousness of human beings.  This bitterness at story's end is fundamentally different than the narrative of hope that opened it:

I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem the more real. Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

Joyce seeks to illuminate a loss of innocence.  In the process, it becomes clear that what was once hopeful has now become filled with bitterness and disdain.  This transformation from what could have been to what is can be seen in Jackson's short story.  As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that the joy and supposed innocence of the town is actually quite vile in the way in which individuals are targeted and silenced.  When Tessie protests with "It isn't fair.  It isn't right" and then is pelted with stones, one sees a complete reversal from what might have been to what ends up becoming reality.  This pivot is a shared experience in both works.

A significant point of contrast between both works is the location of the hurt and sense of bitterness.  Joyce's story resides in the realm of the personal. There is a sense of the personal hurt or violation that exists on an internal level.  While there might be some extrapolation into something larger, the loss of innocence that the narrator experiences remains in the domains of the individual subjective.  At the end of Jackson's short story, the violation of trust and presence of hurt exists on a social level.  The reality of pain and suffering is a political act of cruelty in which the forces of society seek to actively marginalize individual voices.  This movement from the subjective to the political is a significant difference between both works.

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