In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” tradition is followed without question, however, the people of the town may not fully realize just how sickening their actions truly are. This work of literature demonstrates how society can blindly follow tradition, thus, blaming the innocent, and further causing a hindrance to their own development.
At the beginning of the short story, we are introduced to children who are seamlessly engrossed in a large pile of stones, playing as children normally would. Within the second paragraph, the narrator states, “Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones.” This is the first look into the twisted tale of “The Lottery.” We discover that winning this so-called “lottery” did not award a pocket full of cash, but rather a meeting with death. The townspeople were born into this tradition, so they think it is morally okay, almost making a game out of it, but they do not realize that they are causing their own peoples’ demise. “The tradition of the lottery goes back to the original founding of the town, so far back that the original rituals that accompanied it have been long forgotten, suggesting that whatever situation might have led to past prejudices no longer applies today” (D’Ammassa).
“The unsettling events that take place at the lottery ceremony are entertaining in their own right, but they also represent more subtle, less overt behaviors in the real world. One element is the tendency to be trapped by tradition. No one remembers the real purpose of the lottery, but it is still conducted every year, and no one would think of suggesting that it be discontinued” (Locklear). This is all tied to the current situation at the time. “At the end of World War II, the United States and the rest of the free world had a new threat to worry about-the spreading of communism. The Soviet Union was taking over many countries in central Europe, spreading out the far east as well. In America, the Cold War was just starting, and the country was on alert to watch out for intruders and people who were members of the Communist Party. The “Red Scare” was taking over the United States. Shirley Jackson symbolizes this threat in “The Lottery”. The people in the town are willing to annually sacrifice one of their own for the good of the community. This typified the communist philosophy that there was no individuality-the good of the community as a whole was the most important thing” (Locklear).
“Critics respond with various analyses of Jackson’s modern horror narrative, one of the most anthologized in literature. Some point to the illogical embrace of terrible traditions. Others interpret the grim lottery as a condemnation of sexism, capitalism, material gain, and the victimizing of marginalized citizens-women and children, the homeless, the handicapped, Jews and Muslims, Gypsies, and nonwhites. In existential criticism, the story describes an impersonal process by which a community pinpoints a scapegoat, the bearer of everyone’s sins” (Snodgrass). Symbolism in this story shows the individual that “what is important is that the story, in its strangeness, has led generations to question its purpose, ponder its meaning, and to come up with myriad ways of understanding its significance. Rather than tell us what we are to think, ‘The Lottery’ show us human beings caught up in a deadly game, one that mirrors the many social rituals that define much of our lives” (Hobby).
“Old Man Warner is the best source of information regarding the lottery’s original purpose because he lived through many of them. There is a brief moment when Old Man Warner hints at a likely reason for the original lottery. “Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,” added petulantly. Those lines indicate the original purpose of the lottery was a ritualistic sacrifice in order to secure better crops. Stone a person to death, and the rains will come. The rains will provide a good crop season” (Sciftw).
We also read about the black box where the lottery slips are kept. “The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained” (Jackson 2). This is an example of symbolism, perhaps referring to the tradition itself. It is old, and in need of a replacement, but no one dares to do anything about it.