“The Lottery” is one of the most poignant short stories in the history of English literature authored by Shirley Jackson which was published in the year 1948. Jackson is one of the earliest women writers and has left a remarkable mark in American literature. The major works includes the genres of horror and mystery. In her entire career she has offered readers six novels, two memoirs and over two hundred short stories.
The story opens in a village where the villagers are coming together in commemorating the annual lottery event which is one of the most important traditions of the village. It is a small village with around three hundred families which is why the lottery event does not take much time. The setting reveals the mundane yet festive mood of the villagers. Although people are finishing their everyday mundane jobs in order to join the event, yet a spark is felt amongst everybody. First came the children after their school who were collecting stones and playing, followed by the men and finally the women of the families gathered as well.
Meanwhile, Mr. Summer with Mr. Graves the postmaster joins as well, Mr. Summer is known to host the lottery year after year, he is also a very distinguished person in the village. He comes with a black box in his hand, which holds the contents of the lottery. Although the original box has been lost years back, yet this replica too has aged and looks shabby. Mr. Summers occasionally even suggested getting a new one, but the villagers disagreed owing to the traditional value attached with the box. However, Mr. Summers was able to convince them to use paper slips instead of wood chips.
A night before the lottery, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves worked on shuffling the slips with the names of the villagers and locked the box. The next morning usually Mr. Summers is found finalizing the list of the villagers, which he did this year as well. Traditionally the event opened with a song and a salute but with times as old traditions wear away, now-a-days the event immediately begins after Mr. Summer is sworn in.
As the event was about to begin Tessie Hutchinson joined the crowd later than others as she got busy with her chores and forgot to keep a track of the day. Soon after she joins her family who were standing in the front of the crowd. Others started ridiculing her for her late arrival. The event began after Mr. Summer checked the presence of all the villagers, including the presence of Old Warner who is the most important and the eldest member of the village. Before proceeding very methodically and cautiously Summers reiterates the rules of the lottery to everyone and then begins the process. Meanwhile amongst the crowd Mr. Adams and Old Warner gets into a conversation about how due to the lackadaisical attitude of the younger generations these age-old traditions are at a threat because the nearby villages already had given these up. To this Old Warner only expressed his despair.
But as the papers are drawn and people start opening their slips, the world gets around and people speculate Bill getting it. However, on Tessie’s outrage at this unfair practice a second time just with Bill and Tessie’s family the lottery is drawn, and Tessie receives the paper with a black dot on it. Mr. Summers immediately instructs the other villages to proceed with the next course of action without wasting much time and they do so. While Tessie even after getting hit the first time continues to express her opinions about the unfair practice of the lottery the mob starts throwing the stones at her that the children had collected.
One of the most important ideas expressed in this grotesque story is the plight of following traditions without rational judgment. The setting of the story does not ring an alarm initially but strikes the chord right at the end. The seemingly simple lottery event of the village only unravels its ugly self at the end of the story. This lottery is nothing about material loss or gain but a practice that leads to the murder of one villager each year who questions it. The unquestionable acceptance of the villagers that they have towards the lottery led them into internalizing the murder involved which in return has become a part of their social fabric and this precisely makes the ritual extremely dangerous. With this another important theme that the story opens up is how the society is inherently cruel and unfair towards the poor and the innocent.
Tessie is an example where she is suggestively from the marginalized section and the others, who has the mind of her own to question the futility of the lottery and finally gets murdered. It shows the collective hatred that a certain section of the society has towards people who are less privileged but has a rationale of their own. Moreover, the persecution of Tessie also suggests the lack of integrity that people have in the society. People around the world most of the times do not question ideologies or actions that causes harm, similarly the villagers occupied in their safety net fail to see the pertinent questions that Tessie raises and blindly follows the traditions leading them to murder her. Interestingly it is important to note that the villagers do not even question the randomness of this event which puts everyone’s life at risk every year including that of the children. This only reiterates the deadly consequences that comes with following traditions without any introspection.
The prowess of Shirley Jackson as a writer is also expressed in how she conveyed these complex ideas through the characters used in this short story. Tessie Hutchinson is the perfect example of the class that faces depravation, and which makes them bold enough the raise questions about the inequality in the world. And this is what she exactly does in the story, the fact that she arrived late suggests the work she does consumes time and keeps her occupied unlike others and also hints the need for her to work in order to sustain. Similarly, at the abysmal turn of events that the lottery causes she is the only person to raise questions which leads her to lose her life, like everyone who protests the wrong faces.
Mr. Summer is clearly the man with power in the village who manages the important affairs and also seems to decide on the fate of the other villagers. The results of the lottery thus can be seen as one of his fancies. Although he is introduced as the lighthearted, modern man who wishes to bring some chances in the ritual, he too does not question the absurd ritual furthermore orders the villagers to act according to what has been followed. His power and position can also be sensed from the unquestionable authority he has over the villagers and the fact that no one questions his decisions and leadership. The power he amassed is thus extremely frightening and arbitrary which the villagers must abide by.
Finally, one of the most important character of the story is Old Warren who is a symbol of everything that is wrong in blindly following traditions. He despises change and vouches for the importance and need of this annual bloodbath which if altered can bring doom into the lives of the villagers, this only reiterates the absurdity of traditions and the dangers associated with it.
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