In both “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, the authors write to emphasize the sanctity of life through the conflicts endured by their main characters both implicitly and explicitly. Both stories deal with the topic of the taking of human life. “The Lottery” implicitly delves into the thought processes and ritual of a society where the taking of a life is ceremonial. However, the reader is left to wonder the purpose of this seemingly ageless tradition. “The Most Dangerous Game” on the other hand, is much more sinister in nature. Human life is also taken in a systematic way, with rules that must be followed, but also a chance that the target may earn his freedom. In this explicit way, the reader fully comprehends the evil surrounding the Game and is confounded by killing as a means of entertainment.
What first struck me as I read both stories was the similarity in the development of the characters. Both stories had an executioner and a victim that were seemingly interchangeable. In “The Lottery,” Mr. Summers was the presider of the ceremony and he fulfilled his duties with an aloofness that gave the reader a false sense of security throughout the story. The crowd encircled him. He knew one would die; in fact he himself was not exempt. Yet, he wistfully remembered a time when the Lottery had more pomp and pageantry. General Zaroff in, “The Most Dangerous Game” also felt a longing for a time when the Game was more exciting. He had a crowd of contestants in his training area that he scorned for lack of skill and wisdom.
Mr. Summers and the crowd felt the same way about Mrs. Hutchinson, who was so lackadaisical about the Lottery that she was late. In a matter of life and death for her family her excuse for being tardy was a sink full of dirty dishes. In “The Most Dangerous Game” Rainsford is also quite flippant about his situation and about taking lives as he brags to his associate about his hunting exploits. Rainsford dismisses the fear he is surrounded with upon the mention of dangerous waters. In this way, both authors exhibit their theme of the importance of the sanctity of life in the reactions of both victims, Mrs. Hutchinson and Rainsford when they realize that their lives are the ones in peril unexpectedly.
When Rainsford finds himself washed up on what the other sailors called “ship trap island” the reader hears gun shots and the author creates a further sense of foreboding as he introduces Rainsford to General Zaroff. No detail is left unnoticed by the reader as the butler Ivan opens the door and Rainsford is met at gunpoint. At first Rainsford is impressed and flattered by the General who recognizes the expert hunter. Soon, however, the finery of Zaroff’s compound is negated by the savagery of the Game he describes and nonchalantly intends for Rainsford to approve of and participate.
Conversely, the warm springtime setting of “The Lottery” is misleading. In modern society a lottery is a much sought after prize. People choose to play and pray to be selected for vast sums of money. However, in this story there is an undercurrent of caution and masked fear in the crowd as they take their turn to draw slips of paper. “The Most Dangerous Game” is much more of a thrill ride for the reader as we hide with Rainsford in the tree as he is purposefully hunted in the Game. We cheer for him as he eludes General Zaroff and changes his mind about hunting as a sport. Ironically, Rainsford can now empathize with his quarry after becoming the hunted himself. The same cannot be said of “The Lottery.”
Mrs. Hutchinson’s change in demeanor is heart breaking. With her outbursts and contention that the Lottery had been run unfairly, the reader realizes that her life is soon coming to an end. The irony of her situation is that she claims to have forgotten all about the Lottery earlier that morning. Now she fights to challenge its outcome and the reader is left to wonder why people of this town die at the hands of the Lottery in the first place.
Though their style of writing is completely different, in both “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, the authors engage their readers into battling along with their main characters for their very lives. We challenge the seemingly pointless rituals of the Game and Lottery. Inevitably we agree with the authors that lives are not to be toyed with by an unfeeling society.