Dr. Eduardo AstigarragaLIT 2000
27 March 2018
Literature analysis on ?The Lottery? by Shirley Jackson
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson takes place on the 27th of June in a small town. It is about a ritual that is carried out every year. The people are very expectant when the narrator introduces the first scene. It seems to be a natural event given the way people are mingling. The story builds as it gets to the end, revealing portions of the climax event but rather in a concealed manner. There is a lot of tension and suspense. It looks possible that the neighboring towns also conducted the same activity. The narrative brings out some themes, namely tradition, mob mentality, and scapegoat mentality.
To begin with, the title Lottery somewhat sounds ironic when one gets to the end of this narrative. Lottery in its ordinary usage, it is associated with winning, in many cases money or a grand prize that people believe could change a person’s life for the better. However, in this case, it is the other way around. Being the winner is, in fact, losing one’s life. The anxiety that the narrator so vividly expresses when people are going to pick the papers is not because they expect to win but that they hope they will not. This lottery has a bad feeling attached to it.
It is also ironic that the villagers take it to be such a routine occurrence. The way the narrator depicts the scenario leads us to believe that it is such a crucial event. For instance, they cannot go on in the absence of any resident around. They had to wait for Mrs. Hutchinson to arrive. Clyde Dunbar, on the other hand, could not come due to a broken leg (Page 369). Even still, someone had to pick for him.
The theme of tradition is first noticed in the beginning paragraphs. The narrator tells us that the black box sat on a stool that was older than the oldest man in that town. That box was made up of parts of one that existed before it. The tradition had been in existence for such a long period that some articles had been lost through the ages. Elsewhere, old man Warner describes how lottery has always been there. He has personally participated seventy-seven times, once every year.
Jackson leaves us no doubt regarding her perspective on tradition. The people in the story are so passionate about the custom itself without wondering what reason lies behind it. The narrator tells us that there used to be some “recital of some sort” and a “tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year.” All these had faded with time, but the lottery remains. Many things concerning the event had changed such as the “ritual salute” (Page 368). Jackson shows how people sometimes could abandon reason in the name of tradition. The people just did the purge; they never questioned why it was done. The only hint the narrator gives us is when old man Warner says how foolish it is for those people who had quit the practice. The phrase he uses “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (Page 370) seems to imply that somehow the people believed the event had a bearing on the harvest.
The theme of mob mentality, on the other hand, is also closely knitted with that of tradition because the people were only traditional as long as they were acting as a group. Mr. and Mrs. Adams hint to the possible picture of people who try to reason out the whole tradition. In their conversation with the old man Warner, Mr. Adams says “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery” and Mrs. Adams suggests “Some places have already quit lotteries.” (Page 370) The fact that old man Warner shoots them down by implying that the lottery brings good luck in harvest shows that he was trying to discourage them from thinking it was progressive.
There is a certain excitement when people come together for a given function. In instances that involve violence like the one that is experienced in this story, it is true that people often hide in the crowd, as if in doing something corporately no one is to blame. Jackson brings it out so well. In the last paragraph, the narrator says “a stone hit her on the side of her head” (Page 373). Stating this in the passive voice shows how the people felt when they were stoning Mrs. Hutchinson like it wasn’t them. The writer brings the story home when Delacroix, who apparently is Tessie’s friend, picks up a stone so big she has to use both hands. The writer is showing us how mob mentality can make people so cruel as not to think about what they are doing, as long as everyone is doing it.
The other theme that runs along as well is the scapegoat mentality. This is the belief that somehow every once in a while, someone or something needs to take the blame for the sake of the greater good. A scapegoat is the person who gets to be blamed for anything that goes wrong. In this story, particularly this year, it was Tessie Hutchinson. This belief must have been prominent in this town knowing that it was practiced every year. The writer, however, ends the story in a way that causes us to shy from this belief. In the final paragraph, one cannot help but wonder why such a purge was carried out and how people could subjectively engage in such cruelty.
Shirley Jackson presents to us a case in which she carries us through the story but leaves us in a place of bewilderment. The climax of the narrative is unpredictable. However, some clues within it tell us something is not right, or at least what we expect. All the same, the way she brings out the themes in the story show that mob mentality at best can be so unreasonable and at worst savage. Likewise, traditions, if not thoughtfully considered, can be harmful and backward.