A Comparative Analysis of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Punishment” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”
This paper thoroughly analyzes and compares Rabindranath Tagore’s “Punishment” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. I plan to focus on the plot of both short stories, the overall settings, and their main topics. These works share certain similarities as well as differences that make both stories unique and captivating in terms of illustrating the peculiarities of the human nature and questionable patterns that shape people’s behavior. Tagore’s “Punishment” and Jackson’s “The Lottery” begin as ordinary stories that do not presage any unexpected twists in the narration. However, in the course of narration, both literary works suddenly amaze the reader and lead to unpredictable endings.
In the beginning of Tagore’s “Punishment,” the author describes the Indian village and the life of its inhabitants who have to work hard in order to survive and provide for their families. The narration highlights little details that later become crucial, such as the regular quarrels between female relatives, who are the wives of the two brothers, Dukhiram and Chidam Rui. The constant conflicts between Radha and Chandara look as usual and expected events. Moreover, Tagore emphasizes that “when the sun rises at dawn, no one asks why” (11). This notion also applies to the set pattern of life in the male dominated society of the described village.
In this regard, Jackson’s “The Lottery” begins with the description of a warm sunny day in a small village where people start gathering for a traditional event that takes place on a regular basis. The author pays special attention to the mix of boredom and anticipation among people, along with their desire to return to doing their chores. Some characters even dare to raise the question of the necessity of gathering for that cause since some regions have already given up that old tradition. The oldest man named Warner gets angry with such notions, and he keeps calling those innovators crazy fools and says that there has always been the lottery (Jackson 295). This gradually leads to the highlighting of the main topic of the novel, which is the fact that people do not abandon certain inhuman traditions due to habituation, and that pointless violence may even bring some degree of enjoyment. The village inhabitants perceive the idea of starting a new way of life without such lotteries as something wrong and something that they should avoid because it has always been this way and always should be. People fear that questioning the reasons, purpose, and expedience of the event will lead to them being labeled as strange and nonconformist. Warner also mentions the old saying that highlights the cause-effect relationship of the lottery and the subsequent harvest. It appears that no one questions this statement, especially young citizens, who could alter the set tradition in the future. This is similar to the practices ancient people conducted, who believed that a sacrifice was essential for a successful harvest (Bogert 46). Unfortunately, it is a rather common feature among the majority of people who refuse to take active steps in order to fight for justice and instead choose to lead a life full of limitations and restrictions because such an order of things has been prevalent for a while.
In this sense, it is essential to address the way Tagore depicts the women’s status in his “Punishment”. There is a clear manipulation of power and patriarchal dominance visible in the way the main heroines are being treated (Islam 156). At first, Radha’s husband kills her because she allowed herself a sarcastic comment regarding her inability to cook as Dukhiram has not provided her with food and wondered whether it was her duty to earn money. As a result of such a remark, her husband loses his temper, which leads to the woman’s death. Meanwhile, the other brother is trying to fix the situation by making his own wife take all the blame. Chidam is sure that it is his brother who needs to be rescued, whereas the wife can be replaced by another woman (Tagore 15). These events are a revealing demonstration of the approaches Indian men used to have towards their male and female relatives.
However, women in Tagore’s “Punishment” tend to have strong characters and are not willing to constantly obey. Radha points out her inability to correspond to her husband’s expectations when Dukhiram fails to accomplish his duties. Unfortunately, the poor woman pays a grave price for not keeping silent and being obedient. Furthermore, Chandara is an exceptional character in this regard, since she chooses to be sentenced to death for not having committed the awful crime instead of coming back to her husband. From the very beginning, their relationships have been rather tense. Chidam is unfaithful, which is evident in the situations when he uses his work as an excuse to come late, although he fails to bring additional earnings. When Chandara starts to misbehave, her husband threatens to break every bone in her body, grabs her hair, and locks her in the room (Tagore 19). Although the young woman manages to escape, she subsequently returns to her husband. This may be the reason why she admits to take all the blame and not to counter argue as it will be in vain. The patriarchal society leaves Chandara without options of opposing and protecting herself. She is innocent yet helpless and needs to surrender to her husband’s will.
Similarly, in “The Lottery,” Jackson plays special attention to Tessie Hutchinson, who comes late to the event because of her chores. She talks with her fellow citizens and says it seems that the previous annual lottery has been held just recently. It is Mrs. Hutchinson who questions the fairness of what is happening as she becomes the victim and is sentenced to death through lapidating. Her screaming non-acceptance is illustrative but useless (Jackson 302). In this regard, Tagore’s heroine Chandara differs from Mrs. Hutchinson, whereas the Indian woman chooses to silently surrender to her fate, even if it means her death.
Further, in “The Lottery,” Jackson depicts the willingness of people to find pleasure in being sadistic and violent towards others. It is a well-known fact that children can be rather cruel, and the long queue of those who gather the stones as the destiny of Mrs. Hutchinson has been defined proves it. This anticipation and eagerness shocks and terrifies. The woman who has just been chatting with the heroine is now picking up the heaviest rock, despite the fact she can barely carry it. In contrast, the neighbors do not receive such attention in Tagore’s story. Some of the friends and acquaintances observe the situation from a distance, experiencing fear, embarrassment, or even contempt (Tagore 23). Although the crime took place without witnesses, except for the members of the Rui’s family, there appear outside witnesses when the police arrive to investigate the case. It shows the desire of some people to be in the middle of the scandal or even participate in it. This is an exceptional example of the general inhumanity that modern people should avoid.
Despite the fact that both stories describe events that take place in different settings and distinct communities, they possess a substantial number of features that are similar. Tagore’s “Punishment” and Jackson’s “The Lottery” are the striking stories that intrigue with their beginnings and terrify with their endings. The authors raise critical issues that are still vital in the modern world. They condemn blind adherence to traditions, especially if they are inhumane and questionable. The stories emphasize how patterns affect people’s lives as the latter refuse to change the current state of affairs that may seem odd or even ethically wrong to others. In addition, Tagore and Jackson address the issue of the value of a human being’s life, whereas their characters have forgotten that it is the most precious possession anyone can ever have. The authors hint that it is of paramount significance to treat other people’s lives with respect.
Although Tagore’s “Punishment” and Jackson’s “The Lottery” share many similar notions, both works have certain distinctions as well. The authors describe different periods, places, and societies in their stories. However, the most crucial distinction is the reaction of the main heroines, who were sentenced to death, to the traditions practiced in their respective societies. In “Punishment,” Chandara obeys her fate as she finds it useless to oppose males in the patriarchal society. On the other hand, although the efforts of Mrs. Hutchinson in “The Lottery” to protest are in vain, they give hope that each time such a lottery is held, there will be more people who will question the necessity of such a ritual. Both stories leave an indelible impression and make the reader reflect on the issues they highlight. Moreover, having read Tagore’s “Punishment” and Jackson’s “The Lottery,” no one can remain indifferent to these stories and their characters.