What is the common theme within "The Necklace," "The Lottery," "Everyday Use," and "The Masque of the Red Death?"

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my opinion, the common theme in these stories is that there are aspects of life that cannot be changed or avoided: they are inevitable.

In "The Necklace," by Guy de Maupassant, the main character, Madame Mathilde Loisel, is a beautiful woman; she and her husband have little money. She is never satisfied with what they do have. Mathilde cannot be happy with the life to which she has been born— something that cannot be changed. Still she tries. When she borrows the necklace from a friend to wear to a party (to impress others), it leads to disaster, and Mathilde ends up a bitter, hardened woman. She could not escape the inevitable truth of her place in society.

In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," Tessie Hutchinson gathers with the rest of the townspeople as the lottery is conducted. This town, once a year, selects a "victim" by lottery—the members of the community will then stone him/her to death. For 364 days a year, Tessie and her family, along with their neighbors, live with this reality. We do not get the sense that Tessie and her family have tried to leave town. Disaster for someone is inevitable. When Tessie's family is targeted, fear hits Tessie especially hard. When she selects the paper that marks her for death, she argues, ready to sacrifice another member of her family in her place. However, no one has been able to avoid their fate in this way, and Tessie cannot avoid it either. Once chosen, her death is inevitable.

Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" introduces a mother with two daughters, Dee and Maggie. The conflict in the family is two-fold. First, Dee has turned her back on her American roots to embrace her African roots. She has no desire to remain connected to her ancestors who have struggled to provide her with the life she now enjoys because they where enslaved in one way or another. Dee wears African dress and has taken an African name. Maggie, on the other hand, feels closely tied to her roots, especially to her grandmother.

The second conflict arises over quilts that both girls want. Dee believes they will look nice in her new place, while Maggie feels more connected to her grandmother through the things she made when she lived. The quilts parallel how the girls feel about their roots. Regardless of the way Dee chooses to see herself, she cannot divorce herself from the heritage which she knows, for a heritage she can only imagine. There is no way to surgically remove who she is based on the hard work of those who have come before her. Whatever she says, she is still the descendant of many strong people. Wishing to be someone else does not make it so. The essence of who she is, is inevitable.

The final story is Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death." I believe the "inevitable" is also present in this story. The Red Death is a plague of bleeding and swift death sweeping through the country. Prince Prospero believes he can elude death; he gathers a group of elite friends and seals the doors to the outside. After several months, there is a party. Everyone is having fun, except when the clock chimes. This must be the tolling of death. Somehow the Red Death makes its way in and everyone dies. They did not have the means to defeat the disease with closed doors, and could not escape its inevitable arrival.


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