Tradition: "Everyday Use" and "The Lottery"

Pia Adams

Tradition is an important part of everyone's life. Some people follow traditions so deeply rooted in their everyday life that they don't even recognize them as such. Why do you cook rice a certain way? Well, that's the way Grandma always did it. Others hold tradition above anything else. They feel that it is very important to follow these established customs and cannot even imagine rebelling against them although they may be hurtful in some ways. They may not even remember the reason for these customs in the first place. In the short stories "Everyday Use," by Alice Walker, and "The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson, the authors both express their attitudes towards tradition.


In "Everyday Use" the struggle over tradition begins when Dee comes home. She has changed her name, a name that has been passed down through the family branches, to Wangero Leewanika Kemanja. Another clash between mother and daughter occurs when "Wangero" wants the quilts that Mrs. Johnson has promised to Maggie as a wedding present. These hand sewn quilts were priceless in both women's eyes but for very different reason. Mrs. Robinson looked at them as a part of her life, her everyday use, made from her mother and grandmother's old dresses. "Wangero" saw them in regards to their monetary value. She tells her mother and Maggie that they do not appreciate them for their value, and they do not understand their heritage. She wants to hang them up on a wall, as if to display her heritage, her family's customs. It is clear that Alice Walker disdains Wangero's attitude towards her past, as does the reader. We know who it is who really does not appreciate their heritage, Wangero.


In "The Lottery," a small town follows its tradition although it does not even remember how the custom came about in the first place. The town folk do not even remember all the elements of this lottery. The original black box has been lost, but the new one, that is at least 80 years old, was made from parts of the original one. In this grotesque depiction of tradition, it is the custom of the townspeople to sacrifice a member of their community so the corn harvest is plentiful. Even the manner in which the person is killed is bizarre, stoning. No one seems to know why the lottery takes place, but they ridicule other towns that have stopped performing this ritual. Shirley Jackson is clearly letting us know what she thinks of traditions that everyone follows but no one understands. They are not only pointless but can be quite troubling.


In both these stories the authors talk about tradition. One author talks about different ways people view tradition, and another about how traditions can be harmful. In our lives, it is important to look at our customs and decide which are important, and which are useless. We can also try and adapt our heritage to make them more viable in today's world.