Analyzing Theme: ?The Lottery? By Shirley Jackson Essay, Research Paper
Analyzing Theme: ?The Lottery? by Shirley Jackson
Americans day after day live much of their lives following time-honored traditions that are passed down from one generation to another. From simple everyday cooking and raising children, to holidays and other family rituals, tradition plays a significant role on how they go by there everyday lives. In Shirley Jackson?s short story, ?The Lottery,? the citizens of a small farming town follow one such tradition. A point is made regarding human nature in relation to tradition. The story begins on a beautiful summer afternoon. The town?s citizens are eager, gathering in the town square in order to take part in the yearly lottery. With the story focused around one particular family, the Hutchinsons, who are so anxious to get it all over with until they find that one of their members is to participate in the lottery?s closing festivities, Tessie. Of course unlike your typical lotteries, this is not one that you would want to win. The one chosen from the lottery is to undertake a cruel and unusual death by stoning at the hands of their fellow townsmen for the sake that it may bring a fruitful crop for the coming harvest season. Ironically, many of the towns people have suggested that the lottery be put to an end, but most find the idea unheard of being that they have lived in it?s practice for most of their lives. The story conveys a message that traditions may be valued so highly that those in their practice may do everything they can to ensure that they continue in accordance. From this a question arises. How far would one go to ensure their sacred traditions remain unscathed?
For many, change is a cause for ignorance. Most of us fear the idea of change. When one is faced to deal with change in their lives, one of their first reactions is disregard. In the story, reference is given to a black box that is used to house the names of those who participate in the lottery. A symbol of the lottery?s ongoing legacy, the same box has been used for years. It was believed to be made from scraps of the original black box which fell apart through the course of its use. When the citizens are brought the idea that the box should be changed, the whole thing was let to pass. ?Mr. Summers,? the town?s lottery official, ?spoke frequently about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much as tradition as was represented by the black box.? (Jackson 422) This illustrates the people are blind to the idea of even tampering with their sacred box. They have grown with the tradition and find discomfort in the idea of change. ?Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything?s being done.? (Jackson 422) With the keyword ?allowed,? it illustrates the people?s reaction by ignorance. Every year the suggestion is made, and every year the suggestion is purposely disregarded for the sake that their tradition be unchanged. There is a sense that should the box be changed, so should the lottery and it?s purpose. ?Some places already quit lotteries,? Mrs. Adams said. ?Nothing but trouble in that,? Old Man Warner said stoutly, ?Pack of young fools.? (Jackson 425) This illustrates the beliefs of a majority. Old Man Warner being the oldest man in the town was looked upon with the utmost respect. His beliefs, which can be seen representative of those of the rest of the town, were most likely rooted through fear of what may come should the lottery be stopped. They have year after year participated in the tradition and find uneasiness in the thought of life without it. Even as Mrs. Adams speaks of other town who have stopped their lotteries, she never actually suggests it. Probably rooted from an underlying fear which illustrates that their is a kind of guilt. Also as Tessie Hutchinson is being stoned to death she does not question the reasoning behind the lottery, but why it should be her that has to die. What would happen to them and their crops should they choose to stop the lottery? Instead of having to adapt to change, they choose to sway from it completely.
One aspect of tradition is that it may be past down from one generation to the next through it?s practice. This ensures that the tradition survives. ?Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example…eventually they made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded against the raids of the other boys.? (Jackson 422) It is illustrated that the children?s behavior has been influenced by the actions of their parents and innocently utilize the behavior as a part of their play. The children seem to primitively grasp the concept of what the lottery means to the town as they play, protecting the stones as if they were gold. ?The children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles.? (Jackson 428) This illustrates that the people would go to enormous lengths to ensure that traditions are followed and passed along. They expect a small child who is unaware of what is about to occur to participate in such an event. They expect that the family of the victim will participate in the sacrifice/murder of a member of their own family. The irony of this act is that though the sacrifice is performed with good intention, from a ethical aspect it is completely immoral. ?Clean forgot what day it was,? she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her and they both laughed softly. ?Thought my old man was back stacking wood, ? Mrs. Hutchinson went on, ?and then I looked out the window and the kids were gone, and I remembered it was the twenty-seventh and came a-running.? (Jackson 423) The people have engaged in this tradition for so long that they look to the lottery day as if it were any regular day, forgetting that one of their own is to be sentenced to death. ?Well now,? Mr. Summers said soberly, ?guess we better get started, get this over with, so?s we can get back to work.? (Jackson 424) Hurrying the lottery, Summers doesn?t even stop to think of the death involved with the lottery. His concern is that the event be hurried so they may get back to work. They once again seem to show a sort of blindness. Though a sense of guilt can seen, through Summer?s want to hurry with the lottery so they can get it out of the way and be at ease, his comment about getting back to their work suggests ignorance.
We turn to tradition as a source of happiness. The town turns to tradition as a source of survival not truly grasping consequences. Though their behavior appears to be rather ridiculous, their reasoning is valid. They cannot allow themselves to withdraw from the tradition because they do not know any other way. Can you imagine what life would be if there were no Christmas or Thanksgiving? For many cultures, tradition is the basis for their history. One example to this being the Hawaiian culture whose history was destroyed when they were forced to stop their ancient dances which told stories of their past. Adversely, tradition has played negative roles in society as well with the battle between the Muslims and Christians in many middle-eastern countries. Tradition plays many roles in today?s society. Our goal should be to grasp the idea of what they really mean. We must not isolate ourselves to what we think we know, but instead allow ourselves to comprehend.