The Power of Pathos

By Paul Roncone

Recently, I reread favorites from my middle school and high school years: Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. One of the resounding themes that I could not pass up reflecting on is the idea of how feelings (of passion and empathy), or the lack thereof, could create a scary dystopian society.

(Heads up: Possible Spoilers!)

In “The Lottery,” a town is tasked with a dark annual ceremony. Upon reading, one’s blood may go cold as they finish the final paragraphs. But, it is clear that the ritual has become such habit that no one is fazed by it. Even family members turn on one another.

In The Giver, the main character, Jonas, starts to unravel the secrets behind his perfectly controlled community. As he regains his emotions, he realizes the powers that hold the community in strict clutches must be taken down. Though the book is an early YA book, the tale offers some great points that even adults could discuss.

Both stories clearly show what could happen if people lost the ability to care for one another, and, maybe more importantly, if humans were unable to explore their own feelings. They are chilling looks into what happens when regular people have no ability to find empathy and passion. It wasn’t until my recent reread that I notice so many parallels between these stories, written over 40 years apart.

Now more than ever, I feel we are losing track of genuine connections with others. Though there are a few things to blame, our addiction to technology is the leading cause. Checking on each other through social media and interacting with others via text and video games are all ways we have moved lightyears ahead of the communities mentioned in both “The Lottery” and The Giver, but at what cost? Are we as members of the world community starting to lose our ability to form real relationships with others? And if so, does this mean we are slowly moving toward making the events in these fictitious stories our reality?

Paul Roncone

Paul Roncone is a language and literature teacher living in North Carolina. He is the author of Genesis Day, a sci-fi novel written for young adults. Paul is also a member of the Main Street Writers.