Jan 25, 2018 in Literature

Ambiguity of Human Love

Love among human beings has been an elusive concept for as long as humanity itself. In Shirley Jackson’s story, The Lottery the mystery of love is invested in the villagers’ quest to murder anyone from their village in the name of fulfilling a tradition. Surprisingly, even children are ready to forsake the love for their mother if it happens to pick a marked paper. In Raymond Carver’s What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, one cannot fail to notice the mystery of love. Two couples, probably in a foreign country, passionately talk about love while enjoying a drink until darkness sets in. Interestingly, the two couples do not have similar time spent in their marriage yet, each couple seems to exhibit a kind of love to each other that is indifference to the time. This paper compares The Lottery’s and What We Talk about When We Talk about Love’s portrayal of human nature through love and how the authors have used theme, point of view, characterization, plot, and symbolism to achieve the unified effect of their stories.

Human Nature about Love in the Two Short Stories

The Lottery brings out a strange and mysterious human view of love, especially during the season of celebrating the annual lottery competition. The villagers seem to be in love with each other. This specifically happens at the family level throughout the year until the season for celebrating annual lottery comes, when everyone turns against each other. No one is safe from the villagers’ quest to murder each year. Around this time, it is harvest time and the village is expecting pumper harvest, yet one of them must die first. It is a tradition that the villagers do not know its origin even though they passionately observe it each year.

Mrs. Tessie Hutchison who is this year’s victim cries that the practice is not fair even as the thirsty villagers, including her husband and children, descend on her with stones for picking a marked paper. Since it is a practice that the reverie so much, they do not question the validity of their actions, except their remembrance to use stones in their execution. No one is safe during this time as anyone, irrespective of gender or age, could become a victim. On this occasion, a young girl’s love for a fellow girl named Nancy is revealed when she loudly whispers that she hopes it was not her friend. This indicates the kind of feeling that villagers have over the victims of this ritualistic practice, yet they cannot question it.

The Lottery uses irony and suspense to bring out how human beings have misconstrued the view of love. While the village initially seems to be unified and expectant of a good harvest, it must perform an annual ritual whose seriousness comes out when Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson cries, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t fair” and Mr. Summers calls, “all right, folks….Let’s finish quickly”. The Old Man Warner spices it up when he bellows at every one, “come on, come on, everyone.” (Jackson 20).

An example of daily incidences that compares with the story the Lottery are the regular killings in most of the Arab countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq where women who are suspected of having committed adultery are executed in the public, mostly through stoning. The husbands of these women pretend to love them, until their ritualistic desire to kill is aroused in them and decides that their wives are adulterous. For such women, the act may be unfair but that is what fate has decided for them, and there is no escaping the hand of fate. People in those societies, including women, have accepted this practice and only come to sympathize with their fellow women when it becomes apparent that they are going to die.

In the What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, the couple, Mel and Terri, has found love in each other although they seem to have enjoyed their first love. For instance, Terri’s former husband Ed was abusive and tried to poison his wife, yet Terri is honest about that she loved him despite of all that. Ed finally killed himself when he realized that his wife had eloped away with another man. Terri’s definition of love is not accepted by everyone, but she seems to bring out the most logical explanation of falling in love. On the other hand, Nick, the narrator and Laura are a young couple, only eighteen months in marriage and they share their fantasies about love, while also enjoying a drink. The setting is lovely, as it sets out the theme of love that the two couples are discussing, but it blurs off until darkness sets in with increasing jumbled views of the two couples about love.

In this story, people are committed to the extent of contemplating murder in the name of love. For instance Tessie’s former husband Ed tries to kill Tessie before killing himself. Mel, despite his vast education - he is a cardiologist and, therefore, ought to understand matters of the heart - is ready to kill his former wife with a swarm of bees. The daily experiences of this illustration are the normal cases of suicide, sometimes of highly respected people in the society after their love goes jinxed.


In conclusion, the two stories lay side by side the mystery of love where people have failed to understand what love is to the extent of wanting to kill in the name of love. In the Lottery, love is not enough to protect someone from the fate of an old traditional practice.


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