Summers Meaning in 'The Lottery': Analytical Essay

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Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a frightening illustration of a society that has only two classes, specifically a working class and an oppressive wealthy class. Looking at the text through a Marxist lens makes the distinction between classes even more apparent. The bourgeoisie, or the wealthy upper class, are those who hold power over the lower class using oppression. This lower class, also known as the proletariat, is composed of downtrodden workers who are not allowed to think for sheer lack of time and energy. Because of this large difference between the classes, social change is made extremely difficult, and the illusion of democracy stops the people from rebelling.

At first, the large difference between socioeconomic classes is not glaringly obvious. The town in which the lottery takes place appears like a normal small town, it has a bank, a post office, a market, a coal company, and a school, and its women are housewives; it is a society that most can relate with; However, when you look at the town through a Marxist lens, you quickly realize the powers at play. Mr. Summers, the town's most powerful man, owns the largest business, the coal company, which as a means of production gives him considerable control over the working class. As he owns the largest business, it can be understood that he is the wealthiest man in the town. Not having to work for his wealth, he has more “time and energy to devote to civic activities” (2), which allows him the time to conduct not only the lottery but “the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program” (2). Mr. Summers, as his name would imply, lives a leisurely life, excluding him from the proletariat. His second in command, Mr. Graves, is the “postmaster”, who is in charge of all communication within the town. His control over communication effectively puts him in control of their free expression. His name gives a daunting impression, as he takes part in the life-or-death ritual. Their third in power, though not as high up, is the grocer, Mr. Martin. These men control the town, both politically and economically, administering the lottery every year. Mr. Summers as its official, “There was the proper swearing-in of Mr. Summers by the postmaster, as the official of the lottery” (2). Mr. Graves helps Mr. Summers make up the lottery slips the night before (2). And Mr. Martin steadies the lottery box as the slips are stirred (1). They control all aspects of administering the lottery. In the offseason, the lottery box is stored either at their places of business or in one of their homes, 'It had spent one year in Mr. Graves' barn and another year underfoot in the post office, and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there' (2). The lottery is held in the town’s square between the post office and the bank, two buildings that represent power and wealth; essentially, the institutions from which Summers, Graves, and Martin derive their power. The common people stand no chance against the capitalist order, as they are forced to participate in this yearly tradition based on fear and ideology.

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Though all three men hold significant power over the town, Mr. Summers is still in charge. After the lottery has been drawn, and Mrs. Hutchinson is forced to show her slip to the crowd, Jackson includes a rather small and yet telling detail, 'It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with heavy pencil in his coal-company office' (5). Her death sentence is figuratively marked by his coal business. His company is the driving force behind the capitalistic ideals in this town.

The proletariat class in the story are those controlled by the men who administer the lottery, though the social division goes a step further than that. Before the lottery, a good bit of work goes into dividing the people, “There were the lists to make up–of heads of families, heads of households in each family, members of each household in each family” (2). Though in the story we see only the first round of drawing, as the head of the family, in this case, Bill Hutchinson, selects the black dot. It is clarified that 'Daughters draw with their husbands’ families' (4), thus leaving Tessie to be the next in line to draw for her family. The power within the town, then, is exclusively within the hands of the working males, or heads of the families and households. This belief system then centers itself around the importance of productivity, which again, gives power to those in charge of the workers. As each of the members is valued by their usefulness to society, and women are only allowed to run the house, they are deemed the least valuable and therefore participate in the third round of drawing. Women in this society are deprived of certain freedoms and rights.

One must question how those who administer the lottery maintain their power. Quite simply, the lottery serves to maintain the town's social classes, it operates based on their fear that if they rebel, they will face the consequences. In the process of creating this fear, it also upholds the ideology that the system operates for the benefit of the society, which maintains the function of hierarchical social order, despite its obvious injustices. This ideology can then further be developed by understanding the Marxist term, false consciousness, in which the lower class is misled into accepting social systems, even if they are unfavorable to that social class. They accept that system without protest or question as a logical way for things to function. The majority of the town can be encompassed under this way of thinking. They willingly participate in the lottery year after year, losing family members to the black dot. This oppression is justified by the oldest member of the society, Old Man Warner, who responds to people's wishes to get rid of the lottery with, 'Pack of crazy fools, listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody works anymore, and live that way for a while. 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 (3). This establishes a connection between the lottery and work, also, it shows that the lottery remains, because it is a tradition. Old Man Warner has bought into the structure of the society, even though the majority of the society might not benefit, the lottery functions as a tradition that mustn’t be abandoned.

Beyond the tradition of the lottery, is the democratic illusion that prevents people from looking critically at the class structures in their society. Mr. Summers convinces the people of his ordinary status as a commoner by wearing jeans, though he doesn’t stoop as low as to not wear a “clean white shirt” befitting someone of his social class. “Mr. Summers was very good at all this; in his clean white shirt and blue jeans, with one hand resting carelessly on the black box, he seemed very proper and important as he talked interminably to Mr. Graves and the Martins” (2). In a show of democracy, Summers appeals for help from the people in conducting the lottery, “some of you fellows want to give me a hand?' (2), though Summers' question is essentially an empty formality, Mr. Martin, the third most powerful man, responds and does the bidding. The townspeople seem to unconsciously understand that one’s social standing governs who administers the lottery, and not just anyone can hold that power.

Though fear drives most to obey the rules of the lottery, some unconsciously rebel against its authority. Mr. and Mrs. Adams, whose last name might have a connection to the first man as a reference of hope, briefly mention other villages that are either talking of getting rid of the lottery or have already gotten rid of it. “They do say,” Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, “that over in the north village, they’re talking of giving up the lottery” (3). This can be seen as a sign of interpellation, a term that is used to represent those of the working class that doesn’t agree with the system that is in place, but they go along with it because it is the status quo. Fear prevents them from suggesting the same idea for their town, but the possibility of its removal is implied, which indicates dissatisfaction with the lottery. The only places we can see these rebellious desires, though not outright apparent, are in Tessie, and Mr. and Mrs. Adams' suggestion, though both are silenced by those in favor of upholding the tradition. The Adams represents the village’s hope for social change, though the lottery and Old Man Warner’s blind allegiance do their best to subdue that opportunity. Like Tessie, the Adams can’t communicate their “rebellion” because of the ideology that stands in the way.

In such a society, rebellion must be squashed at the source, so it only makes sense that Tessie Hutchinson is the victim of the lottery. Tessie is not only a member of the lower class; she is a woman whose position and or utility is her role in the household. She is only useful to society in that she provides for her husband’s needs. “Here comes your, Missus, Hutchinson,” (2). Her identity is placed in her marriage to Mr. Hutchinson, as noted by the townspeople. This places her beneath him in the socioeconomic structure that forms the society. More specifically, the reason that Tessie is the obvious choice, is her rebellion against her role as a submissive housewife, as well as the function of the lottery, be it on purpose or not. While others question the role and function of the yearly tradition, Tessie’s rebellion stands out. She arrives late to the function and explains to Mr. Summers that she was doing her dishes and forgot what day it was. Almost mocking Mr. Summers, she points out that she can’t be expected to neglect her specific job within the town, 'Wouldn't have me leave dishes in the sink, now, would you Joe?' (2). The 'soft laughter ran through the crowd' after this remark seems to be nervous laughter, as she voices her sassy remark to the man in charge. When Mr. Summers calls her family's name, Tessie goads her husband, 'Get up there Bill' (3). In doing so, she mocks the power relation in her marriage to her husband. Her goading response suggests that she has more power than her husband. Her audacious remark, again, evokes almost nervous laughter from the crowd, who unconsciously understand the violation of the hierarchy.

In approaching this text through a Marxist lens, it is beneficial to see how the text reflects the society in which it was produced. “The Lottery” was published in 1948, in post-World War II America, a period in which the U.S. was scrambling for conformity as they were faced with the “brutal realities of war and terror of the atomic bomb” (Pratap). This text brings to question a society’s failure to question the traditions that they uphold; it does so by looking at the blind conformity of the people within that society. While there is a sense of unease with the tradition of a lottery that determines one member's fate, fear and an overpowering ideology make any chance of social change nearly impossible. Shirley Jackson provides us with a brilliant illustration that allows us to see certain similarities in the society that we live in today.

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Summers Meaning in ‘The Lottery’: Analytical Essay. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
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