The Lottery and Other Stories

The Concept of ‘The Greater Good’ in “The Lottery” and “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

Written during separate times of war, Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story “The Lottery” and Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” written in 1974, both chillingly demonstrate the concept of the scapegoat. By definition, the scapegoat often represents a person or object who is subjected to carry unwarranted blame or irrational hostility, usually to the benefit of others. The meaning of this symbol, as depicted by the two towns in these stories, lies in the belief that they must choose one person to suffer for the greater good of the people. Seeing as how Jackson wrote her story in the aftermath of World War II and Le Guin wrote hers during the final years of the Vietnam War, we can understand how this idea of conflict and suffering in a society and need to displace it has permeated into their works.

In “The Lottery,” Jackson presents a town that commits a ritualistic human sacrifice every year under the tradition of “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon,”—meaning the death of a townsperson is necessary for the success of their harvest (Jackson). “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” however, presents a more hypothetical town which forces one child to live in suffering so that the rest of the people can live in...

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