Tradition Is The Guide Of The Ignorant

Essay, Research Paper

Tradition is the Guide of the Ignorant

In “The Lottery” author Shirley Jackson takes us to a place in which a tradition is passed down generation after generation. However, over the years, the “lottery” has lost any significant meaning and the villagers follow tradition without even knowing why the tradition exists. In this short story, a lottery is held every June 26th of each year. The lottery consists of every man of each household to pick a piece of paper out of a box. One family will be the “chosen” family, which means that each member of the family will then choose another piece of paper from the box. In the end, only one person will be the ultimate “winner.” They will be the one who is stoned to death, and the townspeople will be the one’s to perform this ritual, even though no one is sure why they actually do this each and every year. This blind following of the past traditions leads the reader to discover a universal truth, “Tradition is the guide of the ignorant.”

Ignorance means lacking knowledge or being unaware, and the ignorance of the townspeople is demonstrated throughout the entire story. When told by Mr. Adams, “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery” (236), Old Man Warner states, “’There’s always been a lottery” (236). In this statement, the reader sees the most ignorant of all excuses for doing anything. This, however, seems normal for the community. Whenever a person is questioned about why they do something unusual, their usual answer is something along the lines of “Because I do it all the time.” This shows ignorance on their part because they cannot even back up what they do with a valid reason, as with the townspeople in this story. Another way in which the

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Townspeople display their ignorance is described earlier in the story, where the reader discovers that ‘”Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations’”(234). While reading, the reader starts to understand the lottery tradition from which many rules and regulations disappeared for convenience reasons. This leads the reader to believe that the villagers do not truly understand the origins of the lottery. The townspeople do not ever question why the lottery takes place and they all just stand there and go through with it year after year. The “lottery” has become so commonplace that it almost seems as though it’s a natural part of their lives. Mrs. Jackson states ‘” The people had done the lottery so many times that they only half listened to the directions’”(235). In this passage, the reader learns through the nonchalant ness of the villager’s actions that an important event does not attract much attention. They don’t even need to listen to the directions because all the townspeople already know what they have to do.

Another showing of ignorance is when Old Man Warner snorts,

“Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “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 work any more, 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”(236).

In this passage, the reader finally understands that even though the world changed around the village, this ignorance prevents innocent villagers from living a full and rewarding

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life. They know no other life besides this one, and they will never be able to experience another lifestyle as long as the lottery takes place. The only explanation the townspeople are given for doing the lottery every year is the mere fact that if they kill a person every year, their corn crops will be heavy. Their ignorance to the fact that a good crop of corn is based upon more than the sacrifice of a human being is what drives them to continue this meaningless tradition. Not knowing any better and having this senseless tradition pounded in your head year after year only adds to the ignorance of the townspeople.

Another factor in the ongoing tradition of the lottery is the fact that even though the townspeople have no idea why they are performing the lottery in the first place, they still instill the lottery values on the little children of the town. Mrs. Jackson tells an example of this,

“Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix—the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”—eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys” (233).

The little boys in the story don’t really know why they are gathering the stones, just that they will be using it to throw at someone later on in the day. The little boys don’t even know the meaning behind the stones and the lottery, they just know that it’s fun and they get to play with the other boys in the neighborhood. The ignorance of the parents is passed down to the children through this sick and cruel ritual that they perform. Even Tessie Hutchinson’s little boy is involved in the stoning of his own mother, but because

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he doesn’t know better he thinks that this is normal. This is shown by this quote from Mrs. Jackson, “The children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles” (238). By handing the baby of the village a few pebbles to throw at Mrs. Hutchinson, the villagers start the idea at a young age. The major problem with this is Davy Hutchinson does not realize that his mother will not tuck him into bed tonight. It doesn’t seem to affect the family of Mrs. Hutchinson because of the fact that they know that it has to be done. Most people would be devastated if a member of their family had to be killed, but again, for this community it is only part of everyday life. As stated before, the villagers don’t even know the meaning behind the lottery, and again Mrs. Jackson states this when she says, “Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones” (238). Even though the villagers forgot what the whole lottery was about, they still only remembered that they had to stone someone to death in the end.

Shirley Jackson persuasively presents the story of a town of villagers that lets ignorance run their lives. The major lesson weaving throughout the story teaches the reader that, “Tradition is the guide of the ignorant.” This is shown by the mere fact that the villagers of the community are so ignorant that they can’t stand up to what they think is wrong in their life. They are so used to it by now that they don’t think twice about doing it. This is where the ignorance leads them. This major fault is their guide and their ignorance ultimately runs their lives.


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