Lottery Essay, Research Paper
Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” depicts a seemingly average village with average citizens. The citizens of this village participate in an annual lottery in which the winner will be stoned to death. It is believed that the death of the winner will bring heartier crops to the village. Jackson introduces the lottery as a tradition that has been performed and will be done for many years to come. Jackson also stresses the importance of human nature, which is that humans are conditioned to do what is taught since birth. “The Lottery” tells that it is not tradition but ignorance and cowardness which justify the ritual.
In the beginning of the story Jackson paints a picture of a normal village getting ready to celebrate a joyous occasion. She goes further by setting the time of the event. “The people of the village began to gather in the square… so it can begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner” (74). The villagers’ acceptance of the lottery and its schedule is justified by tradition. Although some people will read this and say “so what? It’s tradition.” However, although not mentioned in the introduction this seemingly normal village is preparing for a murder. The lottery’s ritual can be defined as tradition, but to accept the fact that a murder can be committed prior to sitting down for noon dinner is absurd. The citizens in the story reflect this as they gather amongst themselves and “…smiled instead of laughing” (74). Tension within the village is seen throughout yet no one objects or questions the lottery because they are scared to disrupt the routine of life.
The citizens gather for the lottery and wait till everyone arrives. As this is taking place a black box is brought out. This box is described as shabby and which, “…grew shabbier each year; by now it was no longer completely black but with splinters badly along one side…” (75). Many will read this and understand that its constant use is due to continuing traditional values and in time it will start to lose its original color. However, farther along Jackson writes, “Mr. Summer spoke frequently about a new box, but no one liked to upset as much tradition…” (75). This shows that the villagers accept the tradition but do not share in Mr. Summer’s idea of a replacement box because this will disrupt the order of the lottery. They are conditioned to relate the original black box with the lottery. It terrifies the citizenry when something is done out of the norm because changes are scary.
When changes are brought up, the citizens refuse to listen. An example of this is a conversation that Mr. Adam has with Old Man Warner. Mr. Adams says, “They do say that over in the north village they are talking about giving up the lottery” (77). Many readers can agree why it is so crazy to give up a tradition. However, Old Man Warner does not explain why it’s crazy. He only responds “pack of crazy fools” (77). Old Man Warner does not go into explaining the reasons for his comment, and this shows how ignorant he is about the significance of the lottery. Jackson illustrates that the citizens are scared to accept change. It terrifies them so instead of facing it they cover it up with gibberish comments which have no logic.
In the last scene, Tessie Hutchinson picks the paper form the black box that reveals a black dot. She is the one that will be stoned to death. The reader can see that Jackson foreshadows the death of Tessie Hutchinson by her happily engagement in the lottery and then her rejection as her family was picked. Readers might read this and say that she was not forced to join the lottery so she must accept the consequences. But this also shows that human nature makes Mrs. Hutchinson reluctant to accept the final decision. She then realizes the insanity of the lottery when it is to late. Also at her stoning, her little son helps gather the rocks and participates in the murder of his mother. “The children has stones already, and someone gave little Davey Hutchinson a few pebbles.” (79). Readers will read this and argue that stoning is part of the tradition and little Davey must participate. Davey has seen this happen every year that he can remember, and with that he believes it’s right. He no longer questions the ritual but accepts it; therefore he can gleefully contribute to his mother’s murder.
Readers will read this and argue that traditions justify all actions. Many will say that throughout the story everyone understands the reason for the lottery. However, it is not tradition but simplicity and benightedness which justify the lottery. Even as changes are discussed, the citizens are against it because they challenge the norm. Although the ritual is cruel and evil, the citizens accept it and live life as if everything will be okay. Jackson writes this to illustrate ignorance as people do things over and over again without stopping to validate the relevance of it.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery”, Literature and the Writing Process. Elizabeth McMahn, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. 5th Ed. Upper Saddle, NJ: Prentice Hall 1999. 74-79.