I need help comparing the tradition in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker to the tradition in "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson.

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Everyday Use," the tradition of quilt-making has been passed down and become part of the everyday life of Maggie and her mother.  However, it is not something they do without thinking.  In fact, Mama and Maggie both know the stories of the people in their family, which scraps of fabric came from whose dress or whose uniform.  Quilting, for them, seems like a way to honor their forebears by keeping those who came before them present in the family's daily life.  

In "The Lottery," however, it is a different story.  People cannot really remember when the lottery started, and some of the townsfolk even discuss rumors of other villages doing away with the lottery.  It is not something that feels vital and important to the life of the community; it's just something that is done because it's always been done.  The narrator says, 

The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box [....].  The black box grew shabbier each year [...].

The black box itself seems representative of the way people in this story feel, especially the idea that people were loathe to depart from tradition even in terms of the box they used for the lottery—they are so bound by tradition that they continue it, even when the box is shabby and splintering.  In a way, the box is very symbolic of the lottery tradition in general.  Unlike Mama and Maggie, who know exactly why they quilt and keep family traditions alive, the residents who participate in the lottery have become very detached from it and only seem interested in retaining it because it is tradition.


amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both "traditions" are done almost absent-mindedly.  Maggie churns the butter and sews the quilts as easily as she breathes--it is part of her as much as her arm or leg.  It represents a set of skills that have been passed down from generation to generation as a means of survival and part of daily living.

Likewise, the lottery is almost forgotten until the time of year comes to perform it.  The box is a shambles and although meant to be replaced, it is always placed on the shelf until the next year--shabbier and shabbier.  It is performed also as a rite of survival, a fertility rite for a good and bountiful harvest.

Both traditions are very much an integral part of the lives of the participants.  For Maggie and Momma, it defines their lives; for the inhabitants of the town in "The Lottery," it  colors their lives once a year although the aftermath lasts longer.  In both stories, the actions are second nature--not likely to be given up without much of a fight.  Maggie refuses to forego her grandmother's quilts just because Dee is suddenly interested in them.  The elderly members of the community in "The Lottery" are adamant about keeping the lottery since they believe in its successful outcome for the harvest.  Moreso, they do the lottery just because it is what they have always done.  Those who refute or challenge it are quickly silenced, as illustrated by Mrs. Hutchinson's death.

goldstein | Student

You know, your teachers have internet too. :)

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The Lottery

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