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The society that we live in today has a strong emphasis on being positive. At school and work, people are expected to have a positive attitude. At home, family members are expected to behave well. As citizens of our country, we are required to obey laws and pay taxes to be productive members of society. As a whole, I sincerely believe that our world is able to move forward on a regular basis because positive achievements are greater than the negative. However, I do not doubt that there are undercurrents of negative as well. Everyday people hear about murders, rapes, kidnappings, fires, and natural disasters. It doesn't take long to come up with a list including September 11, 2001, Hurricane Katrina, or the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. The key difference between these positive expectations and achievements and the negative components of our existence is that the negative usually attracts significantly more attention. In my opinion, this is because negative actions evoke a more powerful emotional response in individuals. In this brief paper, we will examine the power of these emotional responses in reference to three short stories.
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Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Vonnegut's short story on the equalization of society is very interesting. In my opinion, the short story is a very intelligent play on the current direction of our society. There is a very strong emphasis on equal access, equal rights, equal pay, etc. Vonnegut's story shows what true equality would require, and it's contents draw out several strong emotions.
The thought of being a prisoner in one's own body is emotionally overwhelming. What makes our society so great is the diversity that every individual brings to the table. In Vonnegut's story, the handicapper general's intent is to equalize every person to the same level and do away with this diversity. The handicapper general purposefully retards every person to an "average," that is well below normal, which does not make any rational sense at all. For instance, consider the ballerina. Rather than making the people around her more pretty, the handicapper general instead opts to make the ballerina more ugly. This theme is consistent throughout the entire story. It is emotionally powerful because the human dream, the American dream, is to grow and be better. The story goes against the natural flow of life. The story shows how the equality argument, when taken too far, is so appalling that it grabs the reader in an emotional way.
Vonnegut's story also has some very strong political undertones that grab the analytical person. The thought of the government acting against the people's best interest is something that evokes strong emotions due to current events. For instance, consider the fallout around the Transportation Security Administration's new full body, "naked," image scanners. The TSA argues that security is good for all of the people and that everybody gets treated fairly under their procedures. The handicapper general argues that equality is good for all of the people because it makes things fair. Reading this negative, gloomy outlook of the future evokes emotions about real-life issues. Sadly, people are able to relate to the dark and gloom this story contains.
The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
Connell's short story also evoked several powerful emotions that I grappled with as I read his work. First, consider the issue of falling off of a boat in an ocean on a dark night in an area with a reputation of being dangerous. The thought of this alone is enough to send chills up my spine. In my opinion, the average person cannot swim well. The thought of self-inflicted water boarding from falling off a yacht is disturbing. Also, for those who have resources, the thought of sudden separation or loss is cognitively frightening.
Second, I do not think that many people could navigate themselves through the backcountry. The thought of foraging for food and hunting for meat is very foreign to most people in the developed world. This, coupled with stories of the "hunt," brings humanity back to the incipient stages of our evolution. Furthermore, the thought of being stranded in such a situation, of never seeing the modern world or of one's family, is frightening. This definitely grabs the reader.
Third, consider the issue of being stranded with a rational yet psychotic man-hunter. This brings up cognitive realities such as serial killers. In many ways, this dark story is so interesting because it evokes an emotion of fascination that is simultaneously tied with disgust. What would make a person want to kill another person? How does somebody become so desensitized to blood and violence? Is this how violence is grown in people? All of these questions were evoked in my reading of Connell's story. It simultaneously questioned and explained the security issues that exist in our world today.
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The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Jackson's short story evokes many emotions as the reader progresses through the work. In the initial stages, I experienced a sense of annoyance with all of the procedure and talk about the box. I think that readers, including myself, felt that this was annoying because of the strong relation to our way of government today. The world we live in is full of regulation, law, and formal procedure. For instance, I heard from a friend today that it took two hours just to check into a flight at the airport today. I thought to myself, how ridiculous? What could be taking that long? I had that same feeling while reading this story. It just dragged on and on, and I think it was done on purpose to evoke a sense of dread.
The concept of drawing names to find the right person to kill is ingeniously disturbing. In my opinion, the meaning of this process has very important implications. As I discussed above, regulation and formality is becoming more complex everyday. What is the purpose of the system; is it possible to simplify it? It seems as though, unintentionally, the system is designed to kill us slowly. For me, this similarity is how I became entangled in the dreaded lottery.
Lastly, coincidentally, the person who spoke up about the process not being fair was the individual who was killed. This is the epitome of irony. The other day, I was on a bus and the driver became very upset about somebody not paying his fare. I saw the customer pay the fare but the driver must have missed it. I pointed this out to the driver, who simply became more enraged that anybody would question his authority. Clearly, there is a strong relationship between my experience and the events in the short story regarding the master of lottery ceremonies. I believe that these experiences are unfortunately an accurate representation of how we function with our government today.
My favorite aspect of literature is that every reader can find a piece of it that they just love. For me, although these short stories are gloomy and dreadful, they are fascinating because of the emotions they evoke. I think that all people encounter emotions such as these, which is why dark stories are so grabbing. This explains the general trend that negative issues garnish more attention than positive issues, as evidenced by reading the news.