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Views on Society in Chosen Novels Essay

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Updated: Dec 2nd, 2021

It is easy to notice in daily life that individuals behave differently when they act as members of their reference groups compared to how they act on their own. The presence of others and affiliation to a certain social group or society in general definitely changes human behavior because of the domination of legal rules and moral norms as well as prejudices and stereotypes in the public consciousness. The short stories “Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “On the Road” by Langston Hughes, “Greasy Lake” by T. Coraghessan Boyle, and the 1963 version of “Lord of the Flies” depict the darkest sides of society. The present paper argues that whereas “Greasy Lake” and “Lord of the Flies” imply that a group of people turns into a cruel and blood-thirsty tribe in the absence of authority, “Lottery” and “On the Road” demonstrate that people might act in a cruel way if these actions are legally authorized and supported by the authority, i.e., if they are not supposed to take personal responsibility for their inhumane and immoral behavior.

“Greasy Lake” depicts the representatives of a counterculture, who reject the official legislation and whose main law is the law of power, or the victory of the fittest. The group of teenagers, who appear to be the main characters of the narrative, seem to rebel against authority, being too young to understand the necessity of observing the basic rules of peaceful coexistence among human individuals, yet old enough to would a man and rape his girlfriend. The young men, searching for their friend, look inside the car, which they believe belongs to the friend of theirs, but meeting, instead of their pal, an infuriated man named Bobby, who comes out kicking, they hit him with an iron wire without considering the possible consequences. Having noticed Bobby’s girlfriend, they attempt to rape her, and only the lights of the approaching car prevent them from completing their crime. It needs to be noted that in the present situation, the boys are driven by the paradoxical emotions of fear and interest rather than by rage or anger – and this is probably the major tragedy of the small microcosm of their social group. Their first automatic response to fear is attacking the source of danger (Bobby), which is a primitive feature, as a member of a civilized society would try negotiating or escaping the dangerous place. Moreover, the young men begin to rape the young and defenseless girl out of interest; such behavioral pattern is attributed to young children, whose curiosity often causes pain to others. Therefore, the characters of the story display primitive behavior as they are not taught to obey the authority of society. Similarly, in “Lord of the Flies”, the teen-aged characters are gradually degrading to the animal state and begin to live according to the natural law of the survival of the fittest. One can notice that soon after finding themselves on the uninhabited island, the boys try to use the knowledge they received from adults and create a well-organized society working for the common goal. However, they fail to establish a true authority, given that Ralph, the first leader of the group, does not consider nurturing the principles and values all the boys would share. As a result, the society is rolling down to the primordial state, which causes the British teenager to commit murders and tortures. As a result of this moral and intellectual decay, the teenagers forget about the main goal of their stay on the island, which is being rescued, thus losing their only point of unity; this turns them into a violent and dangerous crowd.

Whereas the abovementioned works stress the importance of recognizing and following the authority which the society once selected and established through the global “social contract”, the short stories by Shirley Jackson and Langston Hughes prove that blind and passive acceptance of authority turns people into moral perverts as soon as they conclude that they assume no personal moral responsibility for those actions which are sanctioned officially. For instance, “Lottery” describes a bloody ritual of “happy murdering” of a person, randomly selected by the lot. The picture drawn by Jackson is in fact, fantastic as it is difficult to imagine the husband throwing a stone into his own wife only because she is chosen by the lottery to be killed. However, taking into consideration the fact that the Lottery is a time-honored tradition and nobody really knows its purpose, it is possible to assume that no one of the villagers really realizes how brutal, violent and pointless this manslaughter is. This means, the society, described by Jackson, blindly follows the old tradition without even challenging its moral rightness or wrongness and even failing to question why they should deprive families of their breadwinners, kill adolescents and attack their own siblings, spouses and relatives with their own hands. Similarly, in the short story entitled “On the Road”, Langston Hughes discusses the morality, distorted by social prejudices. The protagonist of the story, a starving African American named Sergeant, is desperate to find shelter and food as he is rejected by each household where he asks for help. When he approaches the church and begs for food and shelter, the preacher calls the police, and the officers begin to beat him over his head, seeing that the witnesses of the scene show no protest. Surprisingly, none of these allegedly decent people including the cleric and law enforcement professionals, whose main function is maintaining peace and order in the community, consider the fact that the legislation, endorsed by the authority in inhumane and discriminatory by nature.

As one can conclude, all of the stories convey important messages about the role of authority in the society. On the one hand, social control institutions actually turn a group of people into a well-functioning and organized society. On the other hand, when social norms and stereotypes are followed for their own sake, the society again turns into a group of infantile people, who fail to understand that their accountability. Therefore, all of the above discussed works actually imply the importance of keeping in mind the fact that the very existence of authority is associated with serving society rather than serving its own purposes, and social norms should actualize the interests and values which individuals share.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Views on Society in Chosen Novels'. 2 December.

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