The Lottery in Babylon: An Analysis
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Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Lottery in Babylon” reveals man’s inseparable belief in ‘chance,’ such as that there are moments in life where one cannot simply dictate the turn of events. This can be evidently seen in the main plot of the story which is that all the activities are determined by a lottery that covers every individual in the Babylonian society.
Apparently, there are at least two ways to interpret the story: first, the all-encompassing nature of the lottery led to the belief that no single person in the society can say for certain if either the world has completely become run by ‘chance’ or the lottery still exists in changing the way the people lived; and, second, the story of the lottery is a metaphor for God that acts randomly through ways that are unbeknownst to the people.
Given the fact that the lottery largely determined the course of the lives of the people in the society in the story, it can be said that the people have little ways to steer the path of their lives according to how they want their lives to become. Both the rewards and the punishments that the people can derive from the lottery are important factors which directly affect the lives of the people.
More rewards would most certainly entail a positive result in one’s life while more punishments would most certainly hamper one’s personal growth. Eventually, the all-encompassing nature of the lottery and its sheer random nature create the impression that none of the people in the society can have a good grasp of what was ahead. Thus, the more the people realized their inability to shape the course of their lives, the more they became dependent on the lottery. In effect, the less they became human beings with freewill and liberty.
However, the same all-encompassing nature and randomness of the lottery also creates doubts as to whether there the lottery still exists at all. Given the fact that all of the people’s lives were determined by the lottery, one can say that the lottery has become so normal one can no longer see or feel its presence in the society. All that has become of the lives of the people were lives run by chance and steered by the randomness of the events.
Moreover, “The Lottery in Babylon” also alludes to the concept of a God that acts with random forces in random instances. Like the concept of a God, the lottery in the story is the sole factor that determines the lives of the people.
And like the concept of a God, the lottery in the story gives rewards and punishments to all the people. However, one can contend that, from a religious perspective, God does not play dice with the universe, or God does not give punishments and rewards in random. Rather, God gives punishments and rewards to the people who truly deserve them instead of doing things in pure random such that people’s lives greatly depend on the ‘chances’.
The bipolar assumptions that can be derived from the story are: there is a lottery, or a God, that works in mysterious ways, thereby altering the course of people’s lives; or there is no lottery or a God at all, which is the reason why everything in the society must have been operating blindly by chance. Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Lottery in Babylon” basically presents these distinct assumptions as separate and as perceptions that can hardly be combined. One can either accept that the world and one’s course in life is determined by chance and random events or accept that God, or the lottery in the story, shapes our fate in invisible ways.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Lottery in Babylon.” Ficciones. 1962.