Elaboration of the major theme and its correct presentation to the target audience is one of the most important tasks of authors of short stories. A skillful writer directly sends his/her message or implies the latter by particular literary elements; it can be expressed by some statement in the text or by title of the short story. Using Ray Bradbury’s story “Mars is Heaven” and Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery”, one can trace different ways of theme introduction. The author’s world building, personalities of characters, story structure, setting, symbols and other elements play an essential role in theme presentation. Each short story is a puzzle consisting of various literary elements that if combined fully disclose the major theme.
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The central theme of “Mars is Heaven” is fear of the unknown. It is apparent that both Earthmen and Martians are regarded as two opposite civilizations that are afraid of each other. On the one hand, members of the third voyage to Mars know nothing about climate, atmosphere and presence of life on the planet, that is why they are stricken by a strange resemblance of Martian land and townscape to the Earth. What is more amazing is the fact that the Martian town is populated with dead relatives and friends of crewmembers. Therefore, this discovery bewilders and alerts readers; therefore, the next twist in the plot can hardly be predicted. On the other hand, Ray Bradbury develops another aspect of the main theme by comparing reality and illusion, identity and time, in which characters are immersed. Martians have devised an efficient protective strategy in order to avoid the Earthmen’s invasion. As Earth dwellers, they fear the unknown and try to protect their isolated world using available supernatural capabilities.
In Shirley Jackson’s short story, the main theme is subdivided into two levels: blind acceptance and observation of traditions as well as randomness of punishment. Village residents do not remember the origin of the lottery in which they participate every year and do not try to cancel this awkward custom. Hence, this part of the theme is expressed through the Old Man Warner’s statement: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (Jackson 871). With regard to the second aspect of the theme, Tessie Hutchinson embodies thousands of innocent victims who were punished and destroyed by the real society even without the right to justification and self-protection.
The title of the story “Mars is Heaven” directly points to the major theme under discussion, because Earthlings are supposed to establish a new colony on the Red Planet and make it the land of milk and honey. In this case, the story setting helps to reveal fear of the unknown of both parties involved. After arrival, Captain Black and his crew find themselves in the atmosphere of the provincial American town of 1910th – 1920th. It is unbelievable, but Hinkston acknowledges that “And it’s a small town the like of Earth towns. Incredible. It can’t be, but it is” (Bradbury 1520). The author emphasizes the setting with many symbols such as geraniums, an iron deer, and leaded glass windows. For example, Captain pays attention to the brass band as an element of Martians’ insidious plan: “The brass band had banged off around a corner leaving the rocket to shine and dazzle alone in the sunlight” (Bradbury 1527). Thus, the only safe place and means of transportation are left unguarded. They disarm crewmembers according to the “home sweet home” pattern and separate them from each other.
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Among the characters of the story, only Captain Black considers the strange resemblance of Mars to the Earth an evil presage. When talking to himself in his thoughts and in a dialogue with Lustig and Hinkston, he attempts to find logical explanation of this fact, but fails to provide rational justification. Captain is responsible for safety of his crew and the rocket, that is why he feels fear of the unknown in his bones. At the end, he offers the only possible and true explanation of the events: “Suppose, now, just for the hell of it, that they wanted to destroy us, as invaders, as unwanted ones, and they wanted to do it in a very clever way, so that we would be taken off guard” (Bradbury 1531). Finally, illusion is destroyed and Martians show their true colors, but it does not help Captain Black to save his life as well as the crew and to warn members of other expeditions from the Earth.
In “The Lottery”, the major theme is partially suggested by the title itself, because it appears to be the tradition blindly observed by village dwellers for many years. Setting of the story is quite blurred; therefore, the readers can hardly determine an exact place and period of the actions. The only detail the audience needs to know is that the lottery is held every year on June 27 shortly before haymaking. At first, the development of traditional lottery is described; for example, “Mr Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted with for the chips of wood that had been used for generations” (Jackson 869). At the beginning of the story there are no foreshadows of the tragic outcome, because everyone seems to enjoy the event, keeps laughing and talking. Although the prize of the lottery is not disclosed, it is supposed to be something precious and important, because all inhabitants of the village, both young and old, are present at the ceremony and are on tiptoes with eagerness.
The first foreshadows appear only when the winner of the first tour of the lottery – Bill Hutchinson – is determined and his wife starts protesting. Everybody knows about the result of the lottery, but no one tries to change anything or at least to remove small children from the place of the future massacre. For instance, Old Warner is extremely proud that this is his seventy-seventh lottery, and the idea of cancelling this stupid tradition seems unimaginable for him: “There’s always been a lottery. Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking everybody” (Jackson 871). Even Tessie’s children and husband do not protect her and this is an additional proof that the real world is full of injustice.
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The theme discussed by Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson in their stories is widespread in current society’s practices. For instance, in spite of the fast technological and scientific progress, many people are afraid of innovations or unknown phenomena. The topic of the invasion of extraterrestrial beings is popular in modern literature and cinema; moreover, the majority of the world community seriously believe in it. In addition, this tendency is related to blind acceptance and observation of some obsolete traditions in various countries and societies. They violate civil rights, liberties, universal human values and imply violence as well as abuse against particular individuals of social groups. The brutal kinds of punishment in certain states, religious persuasions or forced marriages with underage girls can be given as an example.
Overall, Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson successfully combine different literary elements in order to bring major theme to the target audience. Both of them use the title as a direct hint for readers; the two discussed stories contain symbols and foreshadows thus warning readers and characters about an unexpected outcome. In “The Lottery”, this is the black box symbolizing Pandora box, and in “Mars is Heaven”, these are some physical objects of the setting that are identical copies of items from the Earth, for instance, geraniums, cupola, and piano. Consequently, both authors succeed to present their main themes to the audience with the help of various literary elements.