The Lottery Themes

707 words | 3 page(s)

The members of different social groups usually share a bond due to their common beliefs. There are things most of us do out of respect for the traditions and norms that we might not have done otherwise and whose rationale we probably don’t even understand. Shirley Jackson shows us in her story “The Lottery” that our desire to obey the rules and traditions often influences us to engage in extremely hypocritical behaviors.

An annual lottery takes places in a village of about three hundred peope. The villagers gather in the scare on the eve of annual lottery that has one winner each year. This lottery is different from the usual structure of a lottery we hear about. Traditionally, we think of financial award when we think of a lottery prize, however, the winner of this particular lottery gets the most undesirable punishment in the form of death. The villagers are aware of the structure of the lottery yet they have embraced it because they treat it as a tradition that should be honored. The winner of the annual lottery is killed by the villagers through stoning. The villagers continue to throw the “winner stones” at the unlucky winner of the lottery until he/she dies. This tradition could be understood as a ceremony to offer sacrifice. The lottery involves a black box filled with papers, and the residents of the village are individually called by their respective names to pick up a piece of paper. The resident, who picks up a piece of paper with the black dot is declared the winner and marked for death by stoning.

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The current year winner of the lottery turned out to be Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson. Her husband was the original winner of the lottery but Mrs. Hutchinson protested her husband was not given enough time to pick up his piece of paper. Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves, the organizers of the lottery, agreed to redo the draw as long as the participants were limited to members of Mrs. Hutchison’s family. The redraw resulted in Mrs. Hutchison being the winner.

This story helps us understand the role of cultural traditions in societies including American Society. We are introduced to an annual tradition with death as the prize yet the residents of the village seemed to have embraced it. People follow traditions because they have endured the test of time, and they feel that discontinuing an old tradition is somehow an act of dishonor. Mrs. Hutchison does a good job of representing the behavior of people in a society. When she came to attend the lottery event, she seemed ok with it. She had embraced it so deeply that she looked like as if she was enjoying it as evident by the fact that she exchanged jokes with Mrs. Delacroix.

She was aware of the fact that the lottery will conclude with a death of a person yet that did not seem to dampen her spirits because she took comfort in the fact that the odds of it being her were extremely small so not very likely. People do not bother to acknowledge the unethical nature of certain actions until they themselves become the likely victim. Mrs. Hutchinson only began to view the game as “unfair” after her husband emerged as the winner of the lottery. She even produced the courage to accuse the organizers of being unfair, “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair!” (Jackson, 1948). It was hypocritical of her to raise objections only after her family emerged as the victim, and suddenly she began viewing the tradition as cruel. After the winner was announced, her sentiments about the tradition took 180 degrees turn.

In conclusion, Shirley Jackson points out the hypocritical tendencies of the society in terms of cultural traditions. We obey these rituals without questioning their wisdom, purpose, and the potential negative consequences until we become the victims. Then suddenly we recognize the wrongs in these traditions. “The Lottery” reminds us we behave in quite selfish manner on a daily basis, and the society has not evolved much in terms of social progress. This short story was written in 1948 and remains relevant even after almost seven decades.

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