Forces Beyond Our Control: Comparing and Contrasting "The Lottery" and "The Open Boat"

For most humans there is always a struggle about one’5 personal fate and their own mortality; especially with extremely random circumstances, camaraderie between individual participants experiencing the same thing, and the human quality of trying to understand a reason why things happen. In The Open Boat by Stephen Crane and Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, the reader can see each character individually and collectively struggle with their mortality and the concept of fate. Although The Open Boat character’s fate has mostly to do with Natural circumstances versus community and traditional circumstances in the Lottery, the struggles that the characters face about death become the same.

In each story, the characters are able to distance themselves from what is going on until the last minute when it becomes their own reality.

It is in this last moment, despite the circumstances that got someone to this point, their personal beliefs of control and fate play out in their last words and actions.

Most healthy people don’t think about their own mortality due to the rare odds of them unexpectedly coming up against something random and life-threatening; therefore letting them live each day not having to think much about their death. In The Open Boat and The Lottery, the authors take the reader through very different journeys of potentially life-threatening situations the characters are encountering, In The Open Boat, Crane uses the forces of Nature, which is usually one of the strongest external situations a human can find themselves up against.

In The Lottery, Jackson places the characters up against the fate of a community and its traditions.

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This mob mentality is very dangerous because it voids individual thinking and capitalizes on agreeing with the group rather than standing up for what is right. This is evident when they were getting ready to stone Mrs. Hutchinson and ‘ “….someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles”, so that he could help stone his mother to death. This tradition manages everyone void their thoughts and just act, making this situation just as unpredictable as an encounter with Mother Nature. These two very different but fatal circumstances give the characters an overwhelming feeling of extreme randomness; being up against worst case scenarios and defying the odds that most people use to avoid thinking of their own death, In desperate situations there is often a camaraderie that forms between people involved.

In The Lottery, everyone joins together and is involved in the outcome of the day. Throughout the entire day leading up and preparing for the lottery, the participation in the actual lottery, and in the killing of the person who picked the winning ticket; every person in the village is involved. Even the children as H”Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and HarryJones and Dickie Delacroix—the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”— eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys,” They may not all know each other exceptionally well and despite the gruesomeness of the day, this one day unifies them in their thoughts and actions. In The Open Boat, all the characters are involved in the potential life-threatening situation and despite knowing each other, they form an extraordinary bond throughout the experience.

They all work together; from the shipwreck to the team work to get through the event. They understand the value of teamwork despite the potential deathly outcome and terrible circumstances they all could face. In both stories,The Open Boat and The Lottery, the individuals form bonds to work together when facing a potential morbid outcome for them or their piers, wether its to save each other or to be saved. When faced with death people often try to reason or bargain. In The Open Boat, each of the four shipwreck survivors reason with what is happening. They go through different cycles of denial, camaraderie and then desperation. When the captain, who is the main leader of the four, stops trying to reason with they wouldn’t have come this far if they weren’t meant to survive, and finally tells them the boat is going to sink, they all head to shore independently to save themselves.

In the Lottery, everyone in the community faces the same chance of picking the winning slip of paper which will determine their fate of death by their piers. When Mrs. Hutchinson picked the winning lottery ticket and was facing being stoned to death she tries to reason to the villagers by H‘stating, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,”. Unfortunately, everyone runs the same risk of picking the winning ticket, so the argument of fair doesn’t apply, however Tessie takes her reasoning further by pleading to whether it is right or not. Since mob mentality often takes over the voice of reason and civility, her attempts to reason out of her situation doesn’t work. Unfortunately reasoning with what is happening during a life-threatening situation is only an attempt to escape or figure out your fate. When facing possible death, someone’s behavior often reflects their core beliefs.

Many people believe or hope that they will have control over their destiny and be able to answer the question of ‘why now and here’ when facing death. Their response to their potential own mortality often follows a path of if they believe in chance or fate. Chance occurs randomly with no pre-planning, where fate is something someone believes is pre-planned but uncontrollable. Crane, in The Open Boat, displays the shipmates situation more through the eyes of chance whereas Jackson expresses The Lottery through the situation of fate. Crane does not want anyone to have an assigned meaning to this random storm and shipwreck, where Jackson clearly wants an assigning of the death from The Lottery to have a meaning or reason. In both stories the reader clearly sees the storm and the power of the community and traditions as very unpredictable and extremely strong; something a person would have no control over.

In these types of situations people may try to gain control by uniting with other people. Camaraderie often makes people feel stronger. Sometimes it works, however, given the unpredictability of people and the different degrees of belief in their fate; camaraderie in these situations can go either way. This is evident where in The Lottery, the camaraderie does not work in the favor of saving someone from their fate, however in The Open Boat the camaraderie provides each member with more understanding of their situation, likely saving their lives; despite the unfortunate circumstance of the oiler hitting his head and dying. Although the two stories have very different situations facing the characters, all the characters are faced to view their fate and mortality when they realize that death could come to them just as it could to the person next to them and that the situation they are in threatens their life and the lives around them.

What you can best hope for in these situations is that the people you are surrounded by believe in the same definition of fate you do, that their mindset is one for all and all for one, that civility and dignity for everyone is on the top of their list, and their reasoning of why this is happening is more about an unfortunate circumstance that destiny Although The Open Boat and The Lottery couldn’t be more different in the authors visions about their characters circumstances, the similarity of the two stories displays randomness of circumstance, power through camaraderie and how one’s personal definition of fate could determine their inner feelings and behavior.

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Forces Beyond Our Control: Comparing and Contrasting "The Lottery" and "The Open Boat". (2023, May 14). Retrieved from

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