The Tradition Behind Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

“The Lottery” was one of the short stories that mark the century leaving a long-lasting impact anyone could not think off. This is undoubtedly the best story Shirley Jackson ever wrote. Even though she had to bear with the consequences after the story was published, receiving thousands of hate letters and death threats.

The word lottery is about winning something like money or goods and after reading the story the perception and the knowledge of this word completely change connecting it to a new ritual or tradition – never heard before.

Tradition is a socially established and accepted behavior and action. This story ends with stoning people to death. The flow of events tricks the reader first with identifying themselves with the characters in the story to later surprise the when they come to the realization they misinterpret the story. There is no any evidence the action is actually happening centuries ago, the villagers sacrifice someone’s life to the Gods, in order to receive rain and crop.

The story starts with an opening that does not allude anything bad will happen. The writer even states the date and the weather. How the story develops information that the lottery has been going on for years could be concluded from “The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. ” The black box represents the tradition and some might imply that is black because something is not right. The other reading the story would not even notice this hint. The writer goes on explaining that no one bothered to make a new box, even this one was built with pieces from the old one. The question that arises after reading the story is why would anyone bother to make a new box, a box which brings death.

As the story develops the characters argue:

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.” Old Man Warner snorted. “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 hat way for a while.

It is obvious that the same lottery is going on in other parts, villagers. As the old man Warner points out, the cave life is probably very close, a step back to the period in the history where they live.

Seventy-seventh year I been in the lottery,” Old Man Warner said as he went through the crowd. “Seventy-seventh time.” From this sentence, we can conclude Mr. Warner is the oldest living human being in the village and the tradition of the lottery was taking place even before him. When something is going on for some many years and even though some of the people in the story complain to quit, the tradition is very hard to break and all they can do is to continue doing it.

“You get ready to run tell Dad,” Mrs. Dunbar said. This is the first sentence in the story that actually tells something is wrong. If there is a lottery to win, why would someone run?

Further, in the story, Warner points out that “used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon. ” This is the only sentence in the message that somehow implies the actual tradition. If the word lottery is changed with sacrifice it would have more sense.

Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones” From this sentence, it is very obvious that the lottery is about stoning people to death. It is the third time this word is used in the story but first time in this context. The rituals and tradition may change over time but they still persist and people obey the socially accepted action.

Imagine reading this short story in today’s newspaper and thinking that actually,  the narrated plot happened. That is actually, what happened when the story was first published.

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