Friday, July 31, 2009

April Wheeler and Tessie Hutchinson

Read Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" HERE.

I'm the internet's least consistent blogger. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, on to this post!

Revolutionary Road spoiler alerts ahead!

Almost immediately in both Revolutionary Road and "The Lottery", the reader realizes she's entered a world populated by characters wrestling indoctrinations, by people timid but eager to slough the burden of dated, sometimes dangerous, groupthink.

In Revolutionary Road, a suburban complicity, a "tacit agreement to live in a total state of self-deception" is quickly established, especially amongst the four characters, young married couples The Wheelers and The Campbells, struggling hardest to imagine themselves as separate from the environment that defines them, "as members of an embattled, dwindling intellectual underground", "painfully alive in a drugged and dying culture". The novel opens to reveal a changing town, consolidated and newly industrialized, and a group of culturally aware young adults, The Laurel Players, to which The Wheelers and The Campbells belong, but with which they refuse to be lastingly associated. With the lips of this chasm
, one separating traditional expectations from new sensibilities, The Wheelers and Campbells flirt cautiously; still bound by the customs and proprieties of the community they resent, the young revolutionaries find solace in only the smallest, most private rebellions.

Similarly, in "The Lottery", a village of people governed by habit are introduced. The villagers gather on a particular day, what the reader quickly gathers is an annual tradition, every year "of course", and fall into place almost instinctively, while we adjust our feet to their rhythm, to conduct the eponymous lottery.

Like The Wheelers and Campbells of Revolutionary Road, there are those among the villagers prepared to quietly question the status quo.

"They do say," Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, "that over in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery."

Old Man Warner snorted. "Pack of crazy fools," he said. "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery," he added petulantly. "Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody."

In both stories it is made clear, even before any consequences are explicitly defined, that dissenters will not have an easy time publicly rejecting accepted norms - which brings me to April Wheeler and Tessie Hutchinson: two women who meet tragic ends after (bravely? foolishly?) deciding to act against expectations. Each woman steps beyond her role as wife, mother, woman and pays for these usurpations with her life.

April Wheeler, wife of Frank Wheeler, decides, against her husband's will, in a defiant "denial of womanhood" to abort the couple's third child, because the pregnancy hinders The Wheelers' plan to abandon suburbia in favor of Europe, the universal panacea of unsatisfied Americans in the world of Revolutionary Road, and because she realizes, from her end at least, that her marriage is truly loveless. Tessie Hutchinson, wife of Bill Hutchinson, decides to make a spectacle of herself before her entire village, by protesting the lottery's proceedings, which, as she is promptly reminded, is not how things work.

"Be a good sport, Tessie." Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, "All of us took the same chance."

"Shut up, Tessie," Bill Hutchinson said.

For her noncooperation, Tessie wins the lottery... whose prize is death by stoning. The morality of this (centuries old?) practice is as resolute as is it horrific and archaic. No, the lottery isn't fixed - and Tessie is not chosen by any artful design of her peers, but her punishment, if judged against the expectations of the world she inhabits, is fitting. April too dies at the end of Revolutionary Road, due to complications of her the late term abortion she secretly performs on herself. And the story couldn't have ended (as successfully) any other way. The message is that women who step out of traditional roles are exposing themselves to criticism, risking social isolation, and in Revolutionary Road (1961) and "The Lottery" (1946), committing a most literal form of self-sabotage. It's important to include that, while ironic, and in the case of "The Lottery" allegorical, both of these stories provide valuable commentary on and insight into not only the historical roles of women, but the unattainable standards and unbearable pressures associated with attempting to shed blindly accepted traditions.

Despite all of their protestations and aspirations to conquer the depths by which they're swallowed, The Wheelers, Campbells, and Hutchinsons are very much defined by, and in some cases, content to behave within (or afraid or unable to disobey) the limits assigned them.

Watch a short film adaptation of The Lottery and the trailer for the Revolutionary Road feature film below (I've got to see this movie eventually!):


Anonymous said...

Hi Becca. I stumbled upon your blog via this list. Did you know you were listed? I am actually at the similar stage of figuring questions of style, form, construction etc. of a novel and I am myself struggling to write something that I could try to carry on with for more than just a few pages.

I seldom comment on blogs of people I don't know but you fit my interests so perfectly and this evening i already read many of your posts while having a fresh copy of Nabokov's "Ada" on my desk next to me. You're doing a great job.

I am now planning to read some Yates. All the best, Piotrek.

Yan Tan said...

hey hunn just stopping by showing your blog some love!!!


Come stop by sometime... ;-p