Time Worn Tradition: A Comparison of Values in Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" and Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

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Time Worn Tradition:A Comparison of Values in Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" and Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"Families and society pass on traditions as a way of spreading certain knowledge or ways of life from generation to generation. People often consider traditions to be ancient, and therefore of the highest integrity and moral meaning. But what do you do when these traditions seem to fall short over time? It is the responsibility of every individual to choose for themselves what ways of life they wish to keep intact for their generation and which ones they wish to dispose of. This concept is brought into light with the ideas of two fictional characters. Phoenix Jackson displays the values of tradition in Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" ; however, Tessie Hutchinson shows how these morals can easily go corrupt in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery".

Phoenix Jackson is an extremely old character. Welty writes, "Her eyes were blue with age". (115; 2). Phoenix travels to the city far from her home in the woods to receive medication for her ill grandson. Welty seems to want everyone to realize that she is an extremely aged women and yet she still continues her journey. In the tale, Phoenix falls down into a ditch along the side of the road after being scared by a dog. A young hunter comes along and helps her. Afterward he asks, "How old are you, Granny". (117; 50). Phoenix replies, "There is no telling, mister, no telling". (117; 51). Phoenix herself is unable to remember her age, and many years ago she probably forgot even to keep counting. The hunter later into the story declares, "Well, Granny, you must be a hundred years old and scared of nothing:. (117; 59). Even a young man is astounded at her bravery of venturing so far from home by herself. When the hunter advises her to return home, Phoenix declares, "I bound to go to town, mister. The time come around". (117; 46). There is no dissuading this women while her mission for her grandson is at stake. She has to continue.

Phoenix Jackson has been taking the same route to the city for quite some time it seems. She had conjured up some sort of riddle to remind herself of the way. We realize this when she recites, "Up through pines, Now down through oaks". (115; 6). Welty also describes how "Old Phoenix would have been lost if she had not distrusted her eyesight and depended on her feet to know where to take her". (117; 80). Upon his saying this, Phoenix had just entered sight of the city. So much had changed since her first trip, that at first she surely thought she had gotten lost. Once she approached her destination, and entered the building to receive the medication, a newly hired nurse asked for her information. Poor Phoenix never answered, and seemed extremely distant to her situation. Once questioned by a familiar nurse she seemed to face reality again, and exclaimed, "There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip". (118; 88). Phoenix's health is clearly declining and yet "she makes these trips just as regular as clockwork". (118; 79). The nurse tries to recollect how long Phoenix has been returning to her office for the charity medicine and says, "When was it-- January-- two, three years ago--" (118; 20). Although two or three years might not seem like a long standing tradition, to an old women who has to walk such a long distance and back it is a lifetime. Without the medicine her grandson would become very ill, and her travels orbit around his needs. The love of Phoenix's tradition is what keeps the strength of it intact.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Tessie is included in a tradition that, to the town she resides, seems to have been continuing as long as time itself. Jackson writes, "The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box […] had been put to use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town was born". (141; 5). Old Man Warner himself states, "There's always been a lottery", and to him there truly has always been one, as well as the rest of the town. (143; 31). The lottery to the town is extremely important. Although "… so much of the rituals had been forgotten or discarded", the citizens still consider it an important part of their lifestyles. (142; 6). A citizen of the town says to Old Man Warner that "they do say that over in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery". (143; 31). Old Man Warner snorts, "Pack of crazy fools". (143; 32). Tessie herself was late for the rituals and Mr. Summers, the heads of the celebration, said cheerfully, "Thought we were going to have to go on without you, Tessie". (142; 9). Tessie replies to this statement "grinning". (142; 10). Tessie seems to enjoy the ceremony of the lottery. And was eagerly awaiting the commencements.

When the lottery does start, the head of each family has to draw a slip of paper from the aged wooden box. One slip of paper has a black dot. When Tessie's family's name is announced as having drawn the first black dot, she suddenly shouts, "You didn't give [my husband] enough time to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn't fair!" (144; 45). She is reluctant about doing the second drawing, among only the members of her family, but has no choice. Her sudden change of attitude towards the drawing seems to turn on her as she is the one draws the final black dot. Tessie is terrified of being the winner of the lottery. The reason soon becomes quite clear as the 'winner' begins being stoned to death. Old Man Warner urges everybody to continue throwing stones by exclaiming, "come on, come on, everyone". (145; 77). Afterward though, he seems disappointed by Tessie's reluctance to continue with the lottery, and by her screams. He says, "It's not the way it used to be. People ain't what they used to be". (145; 67). Thus Tessie's tale ends.

Does it seem strange that the age of Tessie's tradition greatly shadowed Phoenix's and yet hers was more corrupt? In all actuality, it seems that the longer a tradition is carried out, the more the meaning behind it is damaged and forgotten. Phoenix was able to maintain her values by remembering the love for her grandson, but somewhere along the line Tessie's village was lost in the cruelty of their lottery. The time warped tradition of the lottery has become something very primitive indeed, and all the while Phoenix Jackson is able to maintain the good intentions behind her tradition and never forget her way.

Works CitedJackson, Shirley. "The Lottery". Roberts, Edgar V. 141-45.

Roberts, Edgar V. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 9th ed. New York: Longman, 2009Welty, Eudora. "A Worn Path". Roberts, Edgar V. 114-19.