Monday, October 18, 2010

Reading Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" in the Dictatorship of Relativism

"Addressing a conference in British Columbia, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver asserted that Catholics today have failed to transmit the faith to the next generation;" "he opened his speech with a reference to Shirley Jackson’s famed short story 'The Lottery'" — Young people today have lost ‘moral vocabulary,’ says Archbishop Chaput. From the report (spoiler alert):
    Jackson’s story – set in rural 1940s America – features the tale of a small town that gathers every year to implore an unnamed force to grant a good corn harvest the people. Each year, town members draw a piece of paper from a wooden box to see who will be chosen for human sacrifice. A young mother ends up drawing the ominous black slip and is stoned to death by the community as part of the annual ritual.

    Reflecting on Jackson’s piece, Archbishop Chaput cited professor Kay Haugaard’s analysis on how young people in academia in decades past would react passionately to the tale with intense classroom debate and discussion.

    “She said that in the early 1970s, students who read the story voiced shock and indignation,” Archbishop Chaput noted. “The tale led to vivid conversations on big topics – the meaning of sacrifice and tradition; the dangers of group-think and blind allegiance to leaders; the demands of conscience and the consequences of cowardice.”

    “Sometime in the mid-1990s, however, reactions began to change,” he said.

    “Haugaard described one classroom discussion that – to me – was more disturbing than the story itself. The students had nothing to say except that the story bored them. So Haugaard asked them what they thought about the villagers ritually sacrificing one of their own for the sake of the harvest.”

    “One student, speaking in quite rational tones, argued that many cultures have traditions of human sacrifice,” the archbishop continued. “Another said that the stoning might have been part of ‘a religion of long standing,’ and therefore acceptable and understandable.”

    Another student brought up the idea of “multicultural sensitivity,” saying she learned in school that if “it’s a part of a person’s culture, we are taught not to judge.”

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Blogger kushibo said...

Haugaard described one classroom discussion that – to me – was more disturbing than the story itself. The students had nothing to say except that the story bored them.

In all seriousness, then, don't give away the ending before the ending!

The power of that story is that layers of a mundane town are pulled away until at the very end you read, "Holy crap! What are they doing?!" and that is the parallel that is needed for all those things kids were supposedly talking about in the 1970s.

If any of your readers have not read this story and you would like them to get something out of it, I suggest a SPOILER ALERT right after the first paragraph, since your quote jumps right into plot revelations in a way quite different from how I remember it playing out for the reader.

(And respectfully to Professor Kay Haugaard, but she seems to be ascribing to these junior high school kids a level and type of discourse one wouldn't necessarily get from them in real life. In fact, probably the only true sentiment was that the story bored them, an indication that they knew of the ending beforehand. And then the story is boring and any discussion of it can easily be dismissed as contrived and unwelcome moralizing.)

2:38 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

"SPOILER ALERT" suggestion taken. I'm reminded of the protagonist in The Kite Runner, who describes how Afghans routinely announced the endings of movies (the most important part after all), and who would later learn in America that one of the most sacred commandments is "Thou shalt not spoil the ending."

2:51 AM  
Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

Brings to mind Florence King's bitter maxim: "Judge not, lest ye be judged judgmental."

6:05 AM  
Blogger Mirabilis said...

Actually, Chaput's comments were taken from older articles in US News and World Report and The Chronicle of Higher Education:

7:52 AM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Given the popularity of the Hunger Games and it's sequels, I suspect the quotes are a reflection of just how brainwashed students are to accept multicultural nonsense, and not a reflection how those same students understand their own society, nor what would be acceptable to them in their society.

Further, I'm rather surprised at the reaction boredom. My children have a illustrated children's book on St. George where there's a lottery in the town of who gets eaten next prior to St. George showing up just in time to save the princess tied to a stake for the dragon, and each time I read the book to the kiddies, the entire concept of the lottery sickens me.

2:12 PM  
Blogger love the girls said...

On the other hand, what is abortion? if not a mother sacrificing her own babe? An act which is but a precursor to sacrificing our own flesh and blood outside the womb which will likewise come to pass as we recede further from the light into darkness.

2:23 PM  

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