Since the beginning of the earliest forms of government and civilizations, traditions, whether they be in the form of ceremonies or rituals, holidays, or gatherings of all sorts, have been set up for generations to follow. Most people don’t question these traditions, and blindly follow them because people have been doing the same for years and years. Although generally, there isn’t much wrong with this, there can be certain situations in which blindly following tradition, as well as authority, can prove dangerous, and have negative consequences. There are examples of the dangers of this in the short stories “Harrison Bergeron”, and “The Lottery”, as well as the case of The West Memphis Three that occurred in 1993.
In the short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, the year is 2081, and the people in this new world are all “equal.” The people who are born “above-average” are physically handicapped to meet the requirements of the Handicapper General. People who are smarter than the “average” person are restrained with mental handicaps, and ballet dancers are forced to put horrible masks on and wear weights on their legs, so they are no better at dancing than anybody else.
The world is a boring, organized, and strict place, where any subtle sign of difference is quickly diminished. But, although some people may have had a problem with the circumstances under which they live, nobody had consciously made an effort to be different, until Harrison Bergeron tried to change things. Before Harrison attempted to make a difference in the structured society of the world, people blindly followed whatever authority did, which lead them to this point. The consequences are obvious, and frightening. The difference between us makes us unique, and keeps the world an interesting and opportunistic place. When people stopped questioning what made the world a great place, it lost just that. One must question authority for things to change, whether for better or for worse.
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is another short story that reveals the consequences for not questioning authority. In the story, another structured society, this time in the form of a small, gathers in the village square for what, at first, appears to be a village tradition or ceremony. As the name of the story implies, it is called the Lottery, and the heads of houses in the village, usually men, each take a turn drawing slips of paper from an old box.
The fact that the box is old and worn shows that this particular ceremony has been going on for years now, and people are used to it and treat it like any other day. There is talk among the villagers of how some other towns and places nearby have stopped the tradition of the Lottery, which means that others began to question this tradition. In this village, however, there is no question that this must happen. When the “winner” of the Lottery is chosen, the members of Hutchinson family take another turn drawing from the box. The wife of Bill Hutchinson is finally chosen as the “winner” and is eventually stoned to death by everyone in the village, including her family members.
The people of the village had no problem doing this, and didn’t think twice about giving the youngest son of the Hutchinson family some pebbles to help stone his own mother to death. The belief behind this ceremony is that if this happens every year, there will be a good harvest. On any other day, people may have had a problem doing this, but because it was a time honored tradition, people had long accepted it as a right of passage. Both stories show more extreme consequences of blindly obeying authority, but still show possibilities nonetheless.
In 1993, three eight-year old boys were found dead in West Memphis, Arkansas. Almost immediately, police turned to and arrested three teenage boys for the murders because they dressed differently and listened to different music.