Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Lottery vs. The Milgram Experiment

           Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery and the article The Man Who Shocked the World (about Stanley Milgram’s famous “Milgram Experiment”) by Thomas Blass share profound thematic connections.  Both texts show society’s tendency to follow authority and the influence of traditions on people’s decisions.


            The texts portray both groups of people involved as being followers as they only listen to authoritative figures.  In The Lottery, the people within the village follow their tradition of killing one person each year.  This tradition is the figurative authority as it gives the people certain guidelines to obey.  Without question, the rules are met and anyone who does otherwise is discouraged.  During the Milgram experiment, men involved are told by scientists to administer jolts of electricity to others.  At intervals some refuse to continue, however scientists persuade them to go on by stating generic phrases such as, “The experiment requires that you continue” and, “You have no other choice but to continue.”  Due to the “superiority” of the scientists, 65% of the men involved administer the maximum shock.  In both cases, both groups are compliant in the presence of authority.


             Each text portrays the danger of a tradition’s influence on people’s decisions, particularly those in groups.  In The Lottery, due to the long held tradition of stoning a chosen person to death, the villagers’ sense of right and wrong vanish.  This is shown as Mr. Summers (the director of the lottery) apathetically says, “All right... let’s just get this over with” as the villagers stone Tessie Hutchinson (the chosen person) to death.  During the Milgram experiment, the tradition of listening to “all knowing” scientists prevails.  Men instructed by scientists to administer high amount of shock finish their trial, giving maximum voltage shocks.  A sad statistic also shows that during the trials, a group of two to three individuals are more likely to administer a much higher level of shock together than they would have given individually.  In both instances, society’s traditions push people to the extreme.


           The story and the article both show that blindly following traditions can prove to be very dangerous in many cases.  When you have a mind of your own, large authoritative figures are not needed for dependency.  This allows for us to determine right from wrong, and to omit the absurd traditions of society.

(Above: Part one of the movie "The Lottery", second part can be found on Youtube.)

(Above: A diagram of the Milgram experiment)
Link to the article The Man Who Shocked the World:
Link to the short story "The Lottery":

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