The short stories under analysis, “Dead Man’s Path” by Chinua Achebe and “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and “The Coward” by Premchand, depict the role of customs and traditions in the life of ordinary citizens and impact on their destinies. The authors write that characters are limited by customs developed and shared by society. Thus, these customs and traditions limit their personal freedom and prevent them from creating new traditions and values. Customs and traditions become a law of social order determining communication patterns and interaction between people, their destinies and life paths.
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The short story “Lottery” records human’s behaviour and actions. In this story, the law represents another form of social order. There is no better way to understand a culture than to study what is expressed in the law. The law is a fascinating intellectual issue. The actual practice of law is the pits. Laws are old and useless. Thus they exist and are valued by society. Shirley Jackson writes, “There’s always been a lottery” (Jackson, n.d.). This remark shows that the tradition of the lottery is misleading and deceptive. Thus, people like it and follow it from year to year. It seems that the author tries to shows readers that destruction is inevitable because people misunderstand their traditions and are unable to revise them and accept new social patterns.
The short story “Dead Man’s Path” by Chinua Achebe depicts that customs and traditions should be values by society as they reflect the history of the nation and people and their unique culture. The main character, Obi, forgets and neglects the customs and traditions of his people. In contrast to Shirley Jackson, Chinua Achebe underlines that customs can have a positive impact on people and their life helping to create a sense of personal identity and the self. Chinua Achebe writes: “Nancy’s dream-gardens came to life with the coming of the rains, and blossomed. Beautiful hibiscus and allamanda hedges in brilliant red and yellow marked out the carefully tended school com-pound from the rank neighbourhood bushes” (Achebe n.d.). The story depicts that the ethic would provide the overarching moral framework that would determine who was part of the covenanted community and who was not. Following Shirley Jackson, the community is in crisis because of its unwillingness to resist temptation. Drinking, gambling, money, sex, and violence characterize in some combination the heroes and the personal temptations. The short stories under analysis reveal in various temptation episodes the self-control of the character and his attitude towards national values and cultural traditions. The main characters have power over the town and its struggle to maintain moral order in the face of temptation. The main characters cannot exhibit moral constraint in the face of temptation, and this is what makes him so terrible.
The short stories show that traditions prevent people from having happy life and fulfilment of their dreams as they limit their freedom and opportunities. “The Coward” by Premchand depicts that traditions limit freedom and liberty. The author portrays that the difficult step for the character is that he must make the social order based on his values and traditions. In general, every individual is first confronted by this gap when becoming independent from other people. Passing unavoidably to the social order is accompanied by the desire of each of us to return to the “semiotic order” and to try to bridge the two by talking. The main character fails to meet these principles and save the lives of other people. Speech, consequently, which is the very expression of this independence, intends to fill this gap.
The short stories depict that traditions and customs limit opportunities for people to change their life and can lead to death. In the short story, Premchand underlines that this new art supplements the text of death by explicitly staging the fundamental struggle of existence: an infinite double standard that pits ordering against disordering processes, both of which are on each side of a similar contest between the forces that build up and those that break down. Similar to Premchand, Jackson writes: “The people of the village began to gather in the square.. the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner” (Jackson, n.d.). Although the outdated social structures, the level of political culture, and those persons who represented it, may not have proved historically viable in the long run– the tremendous social and global challenges which false ideals have partly sought in vain to answer and which perhaps brought on its tragic downfall are here with us to stay. They are crying out for new solutions, which latter-day traditions have not been able to deliver either. The authors of the short stories personify the meaning of sacrifice since he is ready to eliminate any person opposed to the group’s mission and to their socialist revolution. Thus the lives of children do not count in relation to the lives of millions of human beings. It is therefore imperative to sacrifice a minority in order to liberate the majority.
The three short stories show that traditions prevent people from achieving happiness as they determine old fashioned principles established by past generations of people. In the short stories, the main character does not move to confront the evil until events make it apparent that only the violent destruction of the evil one appears just and virtuous. Readers must now proceed step by step and ask not only which individuals are morally culpable but also expose the deeper historical causes of the flawed social realities of socialist practice and the influences that moulded the biographies of such symbols of the system, who both came from a humble working-class background. The authors vividly portray that traditions are based on unique symbols and words such as lottery, stone or coward. Although traditional linguistics presents language as a logical, discursive and linear system that enables us to deliver messages, translate what we have in mind and understand our interlocutors, one can always question the relevance of this social order shaped by old traditions and customs.
In sum, traditions and customs have a negative impact on the happiness and dreams of people. Customs and traditions limit freedom and liberty, life opportunities and the possibility to develop something new. Readers understand that life belongs in some fundamental way in this world order and hints that life may even have some fundamental role to play in the story. The authors create an alienating and terrifying image of customs and traditions. It is no wonder that in our frustration, terror, and resulting anger, our culture and traditions accept a program of controlling and dominating human life.
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- Achebe, Ch. Dead Man’s Path. N.d.
- Jackson, S. The Lottery. n.d.
- Premchand, D.R. A Coward. The World of Premchand: Selected Short Stories Oxford University Press, 2001