The Lottery by Shirley Jackson shows the brutality in an ancient ritual carried out by a village. The villagers gather on the 27 of June every year for the lottery. This lottery is not the usual kind where a winner is rewarded with a large sum of money. The prize is death and the ‘winner’ gets the prize immediately by being stoned by the rest of the community in the stoning ritual. The ritual killing goes on every year to appease the god of rain to ensure that they get a heavy harvest and people accept it without questioning its purpose now. The community condones the barbaric ritual in one way or another as shown through the characters, setting, symbols, point of view, language, and theme.
Tradition is a major theme in the lottery. The village has the tradition of lottery that is done annually. It is such an old ritual that the villagers do not know about its origin. This suggests that it has become useless but the village continues to practice it nonetheless because it is a powerful custom and synonymous with nature. They do not rebel against the practice thus no telling if it will ever stop. The following analysis of various constituents of the story develops the theme.
Some characters stand for tradition in the story. The tradition, in this case, is the lottery, and the old man Mr. Warner champions the practice. The ritual is old and the oldest man in the village Mr. Warner found the black box in use. This signifies that the tradition dates back many years ago and it has been passed down from one generation to another. This makes the old man remind some of the villagers who were talking about some villages abandoning the lottery that the ritual had ensured they always had a heavy corn harvest. According to the old man, the lottery ensures that the community continues to enjoy bounty harvests and guard against the misfortune of hunger or famine. Thus, his opinion is that the practice must continue for the food security of the village even though many do not know its origin and have forgotten many practices associated with the ritual.
Dickie Delacroix, Bobby Jones, Harry Jones, and Bobby Martin are young boys going through the normal activities of a young boy. We meet the boys collecting stones after school and putting them in a pile. The boys are taking part in the lottery by bringing in the stones that will be used in the killing and they are eager for the ritual to begin. The practice has been passed to them and they assemble first. Just like the rest of the community, they cannot wait for the killing to begin. The author shows us the participation of the boys while girls stand and look because this is a patriarchal society. The men or heads of households pick the lottery on behalf of their families thus the boys are being initiated into the ritual as they have a role to play in case a father is absent and when they become heads of their households.
The villagers who listen to the Old man’s explanation about the purpose of the ritual do not question the rationale. They seem willing to follow any kind of ritual as long as it is a tradition. The notion of tradition makes it okay for them to kill one of their own every year and go on about their business as if nothing has happened. The old man is the voice of an ancient tradition and reminisces about the old days when things were different and nobody was questioning the custom.
Mr. Summers is an important component of the lottery and represents a progressive mind. He is a man without children even though he is married and fact that this information about him is made known may suggest that the village prefers the traditional family setup with a father mother and children. That notwithstanding, Mr. Summers wants the old black box replaced with a new one. However, the villagers do not like his ideas because they did not like to upset the tradition that the old black box represents. On the other hand, he manages to convince the villagers to embrace the use of paper in place of wood chips, which were no longer efficient with the growing population, as they could not fit in the black box. More, importantly he brings about a change in the lottery but continues to perpetuate its existence.
Mr. Graves supports the lottery and has authority being the village postmaster. He commissions Mr. Summers to conduct the ritual and brings a stool on which the old black box will be mounted. His name may also suggest that the lottery is not about the celebration at all because the ‘winner’ eventually heads to a grave after the stoning. He is a quiet character and recedes to the background once he brings in the stool only to appear at the end of the story. He opens the paper from Dave Hutchinson’s hand. He is a strong proponent of the lottery.
Mr. and Mrs. Adam question the ritual killing. They say that other villages have already abandoned the tradition. They think their village could also follow suit and abandon this ritualistic killing of a villager annually. They are willing to question a tradition that has been held for a long time. However, the Old man Warner warns Mrs. Adams of the consequences of failing to fulfill the ritual, as they would have to go back to eating acorns and chickweed. These two characters have realized that the lottery is merely the killing of villagers in cold blood just because everyone supports the tradition. This is an outdated practice and these two show that there is hope that the ritual will one day stop when more villagers join their bandwagon and demand for the demolition of this violent ritual.
Tess Hutchinson is a character who also seems not to give a lot of attention to the lottery. On this particular day, she had forgotten what day it was and thus came to the lottery late in her apron as she had just finished doing her dishes. Everyone murmurs when she arrives but she is told she is in time. She urges her husband to go on and pick the lottery and unfortunately, he picks the ‘winning paper strip’ with a black post. She starts to protest and says that Bill was not given enough time to pick the lottery he wanted. She protests that the lottery was unfair and begs for her life to be spared. She wants to trade places with her child or son-in-law but the villagers cannot understand her rebellion against the tradition. Her husband tells her to shut up and her friend Mrs. Delacroix tells her everyone got a fair chance at the lottery. Mrs. Delacroix is ready to kill her and get on with the tradition, which is greater than friendship. She is expected to accept the outcome of the lottery quietly, but her protests show us that winners are not always martyrs ready to die for the sake of the village but frightened individuals who die unwillingly at the hands of a bloodthirsty community.
The setting of the lottery is a day during summer on a clear and sunny day. The grass is green and flowers are blossoming. The lottery takes place in a square in a certain village but the author does not name a specific place hence the anonymity of the village. However, we know that other villages too have the practice thus this is a widespread practice. During this time, the people were religious and there are Christian allusions in the story. This setting contributes to the tone of the story that is calm or detached. The author introduces us to a small village going about their business on a sunny day in summer and later gathering to a lottery to pick up a member to kill in the stoning ritual. Throughout these activities, the tone does not change and remains detached from start to finish.
The narrator of the story is third person. He or she tells the story and remains detached throughout the activities of the village. The narrator does not give us the privilege of understanding the feelings or emotions of the characters rather shows us their participation in the lottery. We get to learn the purpose of the lottery at the end from the actions of the characters instead of their thoughts. This narrator’s point of view is effective because we get to learn about the lottery and its hold on the people. If the story was told from the point of view of one of the characters it would not have been effective as the narrator would probably give us their thoughts thus blocking us from seeing the real nature of the lottery and how people perceive it.
The language used by the author is journalistic. She does not show emotions in the story rather she simply tells us the story about everyday activities such as school, the weather and goes on to describe how the lottery took place and the eventual killing of a villager. The tone is detached and thus the author shows how the ritual had become so ingrained in the village that they did it under two hours and went on to have lunch. The symbols explained below show how the author used language to enhance the narrative.
Various symbols have been used in the story to convey the meaning. The lottery is a symbol that signifies good things to many people such as big cash prizes. The story opens on a sunny day and we think at first that the lottery is a good thing until we learn its true meaning towards the end of the story. The lottery could also be an allegory of the village that seems to be running smoothly, but a lot of harm underlies the calmness as symbolized by the piles of stones. The brutal killing of the chosen member shows the level of violence in society. People are following a ritual that they do not even know how began. They do not even follow all the rituals but the most important remains that the stones are for killing and they are ready to kill just to preserve the tradition. Stoning also allows all villagers to participate in the ritual from the young to the old. Stones are also old tools thus the villagers feel the connection to their ancestors because they also used them in their lottery. Stoning is a religious act that was done to expel rebels or as a form of punishment and because the village was religious they could identify with the practice.
The other symbol is the black box, which stands for tradition. Though it is old people do not want to replace it because they think it was made from previous old boxes thus it connects them to the ancient ritual. The village to perpetuate a violent activity in the name of a ritual uses this box. The lottery turns out to be a horror.