Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is one of the most influential stories created in American culture and literature. The story is a narration of a village that holds an annual lottery. The fate of the lottery winner is dark and cruel. When readers are introduced to the story, they may think it is about a casual and happy event. “The Lottery” forces humans to address various aspects of their nature, such as the human capacity for violence, the power of ritual and tradition, and mob conformity.
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson was published in The New Yorker on June 26, 1948. Jackson’s text is set on June 27, during a warm summer day in a small village where residents gather yearly to participate in the lottery. Although the event appears festive at first, it becomes clear that the lottery is unpleasant. Tessie Hutchinson is only concerned about the lottery when she is involved. The person who wins the lottery is stoned until death by other residents (Jackson 295). The story closes after Tessie wins and is stoned by all villagers, including her family members.
“The Lottery” is a narration of mob mentality, blind tradition, and human’s willingness to attack others. The story implies that people may perform rituals that seem irrational because they have been used to them since birth. The old man Warner says, “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon,” meaning that the yearly lottery is believed to bring a good harvest and favorable crops (Jackson 292). Jackson argues that every culture and age has its harmful and illogical traditions, performed in the name of rituals and tradition.
At the core of “The Lottery” is a story that explores the human’s violent capacity when such brutality is couched in the name of social order or tradition. The author says, “no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box” (Jackson 292). The villagers are adamant about some traditions and remember a few details about the lottery. The only consistent theme in Jackson’s text is violence, showing the villagers’ priorities. Jackson frames the villagers as ordinary and humble individuals but, at the same time, as people capable of murder because they do not perceive killing as a bad thing. The villagers did not remember the ritual, but they knew how to “use stones” (Jackson 295). The culmination of brutality happens when a stone hits the side of Tessie’s head.
The dissonant contrasts and unease warnings show that something is wrong, although the author obscures the story’s meaning. The picturesque and warm setting contrasts the horrific violence portrayed in the story’s ending. Learning about the fate of the lottery’s winner is disturbing because readers may have other expectations. The village men and Mr. Summers grin at each other “humorlessly and nervously” (Jackson 294). The reaction is unexpected for an event that is seemingly bright at first.
The story discourages and emphasizes the need to take responsibility in society. Savagery negatively affects society, and it continues because people fail to take responsibility for their actions. For instance, in “The Lottery,” the narrator says that a stone hit Tessie. The sentence is grammatically structured to appear as if a stone voluntarily hit Tessie; thus, nobody can take responsibility for Tessie’s murder (Jackson 295). All villagers conform to a specific directive that compels them to commit violence.
In conclusion, Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a story of obedience to tradition and authority and the willingness to participate in violence due to perceived social order. The lottery winner is surprisingly stoned until she dies, suggesting a dark conclusion for a short story that seemed bright at first. “The Lottery” makes an innocent person suffer because of the inability to change harmful traditions. Tessie was sacrificed for no reason since her death did not affect farm produce. Furthermore, no one took responsibility for Tessie’s death; therefore, the barbaric tradition would likely continue.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery. 1948.” The Lottery and Other Stories, Farrar, Straus and Company, 1949, pp. 291-302.