The Lottery

Shirley Jackson’s insights and observations about man and
society are reflected in her famous short story "The
Lottery". Many of her readers have found this story
shocking and disturbing. Jackson reveals two general
attitudes in this story: first, the shocking reality of human’s
tendency to select a scapegoat and second, society as a
victim of tradition and ritual.

Throughout history we have witnessed and participated in
many events, where, in time of turmoil and hardship,
society has a tendency to seize upon a scapegoat as means
of resolution. The people of the village had been taught to
believe that in order for their crop to be abundant for the
year, some individual had to be sacrificed. "Lottery in June,
corn be heavy soon", said Old Man Warner. The irony
here is that villagers are aware that this act is inhumane but
none want to stand and voice their opinion, for fear of
going against society’s standards and being outcast or
being stoned. "It’s not the way it used to be," Old Man
Warner said clearly. "People ain’t the way they used to
be." Fear that if they go against society they might be
chosen as the lottery winner or there might be a truth, after
all, that it would disrupt their corn season. "Some places
have already quit lotteries," Mrs. Adams said. "Nothing but
trouble in that," Old Man Warner said stoutly. "Pack of
young fools." In stoning Tessie, the villagers treat her as a
scapegoat onto which they can project and repress their
own temptations to rebel. The only person who shows their
rebellious attitude is Tessie. She does not appear to take
the ritual seriously, as she comes rushing to the square
because she "clean forgot what day it was". The villagers
are aware of her rebellious attitude and they are weary that
she may be a possible cause for their crops not to be
plentiful. "It isn’t fair, it isn’t right," Mrs. Hutchinson
screamed, and then they were upon her.

We can understand how traditions are easily lost through
the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by
word of mouth or by example from one generation to
another. It is how traditions that lose their meaning due to
human forgetfulness can cause dreadful consequences to
occur. Although "the villagers had forgotten the ritual and
lost the original box, they still remembered to use stones".
Do people just pick and choose which part of a tradition
they want to keep? We tend to remember the actions and
the objects necessary to proceed with a ritual, but we
always seem to forget the purpose or the reason behind it.
Are we correct in still continuing the tradition even though
there is a victim involved? It seems we, as part of a society,
are scared of being ridiculed if we change or end a tradition
because everyone around us will still behave in the manner
they were taught. "The people had done it so many times
that they only half listened to the directions," shows that the
meaning and purpose behind the ritual had been lost and
they were just acting it out through repetition. The villagers,
who remember some bits of history about those forgotten
aspects of the ritual, aren’t even definite about the accuracy
of their beliefs. Some believe that the "official of the lottery
should stand" a certain way when he sang the chant, others
believe that he should "walk among the people". No one
exactly remembers the how and why of the tradition, most
have become completely desensitized to the murderous
rituals. Because the adults have forgotten the tradition’s
history, the children know even less and they are
desensitized to murder, thinking it’s just another fun holiday
like Christmas.

Jackson expressed clearly how violence that occurs around
us or that we cause is pointless and has no purpose. Yet
this violence and evil grows from a seed within our hearts
and minds waiting to free itself in times of panic and turmoil.
We need to learn to find solutions to our problems instead
of putting the blame on others as means of a remedy. When
there are no other corrupt and sinful human beings to kill,
society will turn on itself. Even caring and normal human
beings can throw stones. Forgotten traditions can also be
extremely dangerous as Shirley Jackson points out in her
short story. People hear what they want to hear and
choose what rituals to keep for traditions. The simple game
of telephone proves that as a society, we are just like the
villagers, forgetting the original words but continuing on as if
the words we know are the original.

Category: Book Reports