Traditional Binary in “The Lottery” by Jackson

Subject: Literature
Pages: 2
Words: 323
Reading time:
2 min

There are multiple traditional binaries that society has instituted to simplify internal social processes, and prominent authors often achieve a more dramatic effect by destroying such expectations. In “The Lottery,” Jackson shatters the binary construct of losing and winning and the related socially acceptable reactions to each option. In our society, it is believed that “winning” a lottery or any kind of competition is a pleasant event and a cause for joy. Thus, the winner should demonstrate a sense of contentment and other positive emotions. In contrast to that, “losing” or sustaining a defeat is associated with unfulfilled hopes and disappointed expectations, which makes dissatisfaction a commonly anticipated and approved reaction to the inability to win. The selected piece reverses this norm by creating a fictional society with traditions that challenge the common understanding of victory.

Jackson’s short story turns the abovementioned expectation upside down by depicting a community in which “losing” is a joyous experience, whereas “winning” is the reason for weeping and represents each citizen’s main fears. In the annual lottery that takes place in a small American town, participants “beam, laugh,” and hold “their slips of paper above their heads” with happiness after learning that they have lost. The only winner, Tessie, is horrified by her “victory” and wants to get rid of the “prize.” The moments before getting what she has won are to be marked with despair, and everyone else in the community accepts such reactions as something right and understandable. By shattering the normalized concepts of success and failure, the author makes the characters’ reactions to the lottery’s outcomes look otherworldly. She manages to keep the reader in a sense of confusion before the final passage arranges everything back to order. It explains that the prize is the privilege of being stoned to death to ensure the community’s success in growing crops.