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In his interview with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell states, “We all operate in our society in relation to a system, which might eat you up and relieve you of your humanity, or you might be able to use it for human purposes.”
For this discussion, we are going to consider the influence of the community and the individual’s adherence to the status quo in Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery” or Ursula K. LeGuin’s story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” We should consider the role that community values play in shaping individual behavior. Choose one of these stories, and answer the following questions for that selection:
1. When examining the story, who is the protagonist? Why do you identify that character as the protagonist? Choose a few descriptive words to show how you see this character being presented to you. Is the protagonist the same person as the narrator, or are they two different characters/personas? Explain who you think the narrator might be.
2. Is this a story about conformity, individuality, or both? Explain how and why the story seems to be about individuality or conformity. What central message does the story communicate about these ideas? Does there seem to be a great deal of individuality displayed by the protagonist in the story? Why or why not?
3. What seems to be the influence of the community in the story, and what is the “status quo” that is being described? What does this selection say about our tendency to uphold tradition, even if it is a tradition at the expense of the health, happiness, or even the lives of others? Does the selection illustrate our tendency to go along with the status quo as long as our own individual needs are taken care of? Explain.
4. Consider the setting of the story: how much importance or significance does the setting seem to play in the way that readers would interpret the tone of the story? How does the author’s description of setting “set the stage” for what comes next in the story? Connect that setting to the theme, but also consider its connection to one of the following: irony, foreshadowing, symbolism, metaphor, or social/political ideas and contexts.
5. What does the selection show us about the price that individuals might pay for following trends, tradition, or the status quo? What does the author show us might be a possible danger in putting too much weight on your community’s values? How does our happiness/prosperity depend on the suffering of others (or even ourselves), whether we publicly recognize it or not?
6. Finally, consider your own reaction to these selections. What emotions do you feel as you read, and at any point in your reading do you feel uncomfortable or self-reflective? What makes you feel that way, and why? What does your reaction show you about your own feelings towards conforming?
On a more personal note, where do you think you would fit into the village in Jackson’s story? Would you be one of those who “walk away from Omelas,” or would you stay and live in the utopia? Is it important to maintain the status quo and protect the balance of the community, even if it’s at the expense of a few? Give an example.