Outdated Traditions in “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
Short stories such as Jackson’s “The Lottery” often deliver the point of view of their authors regarding a particular issue or topic due to the pace of their narration and the intended moral of the story. Jackson’s work presents an excellent example of the impact of foreshadowing on a reader’s perspective on the discussed issue. While there are several ideas that can be analyzed, I found the depiction of tradition in Jackson’s story genuinely fascinating. My thesis is that the author’s intention is not to abolish traditions but to usher people to keep only those traditions that make sense. In this essay, I would like to explore the topic of traditions, especially outdated ones, in the views presented by Shirley Jackson in “The Lottery.”
The story takes place on a single day, which appears to have a special meaning known to all attendants. The peaceful scenes the author puts in front of a reader present a calm and everyday life of a rural location deep within the country’s borders. Jackson reveals the casual tone of the event as she writes that “the people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions” (966). The event that takes place appears to be a lottery, but it is unknown what is the reason for it, and neither does the author reveal the outcome. To a reader’s confusion and, perhaps, horror, the unusual calmness of the crowd persists throughout the lottery, even when it turns out that the lottery winner will be stoned to death.
The primary factor that adds to the horror of the depicted event is the lack of concern among the general public towards the planned execution of a random person. Moreover, stoning in this story is not some kind of punishment, at least not for an actual crime that a person has committed. To emphasize the absurdity of this old tradition, Jackson writes that “the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box” (76). There is no explanation why this person needs to be sacrificed, and nor are there any initial elements that survive through time to remind people of its meaning.
There is a second pointer towards specifics of traditions that the author depicts as detrimental to society. There is no direct explanation of the outcome that is to be expected if the dire tradition from the story is ignored. The only mention that Jackson gives regarding this point is that there would be “nothing but trouble.” Such a broad conclusion gives the reader an idea that the people themselves do not remember the very reasons why the lottery began in the first place. However, as they continue to partake in this ritual, they adhere to no reason, replacing logic with mindless obedience.
The author delivers her remarks regarding the meaninglessness of some traditions through the mode of narration through which a reader is kept aware of an unknown yet dreadful connotation that this encounter has. However, through Jackson’s delivery, there are no direct clues to the reasons behind such a gruesome ritual. The author’s point concerns the value of traditions whose meaning has been lost long ago, as well as those that have no basis for existence. The lottery that villagers partake in depicts old, pointless, and even harmful rituals that have no place in modern society.
Every nation has its own culture and traditions, which play a vital role and have a significant influence on society. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” depicts the brutality and susceptibility of people in a community, the link between tradition and brutality, and, most crucially, the importance of unthinking tradition. The traditional lottery is held on a lovely summer day when the wildflowers are blooming. The grass is beautiful in a tiny hamlet when all the inhabitants congregate in the center, especially children.
Jackson portrays the boys going to pick up pebbles and placing them in their bags with fun behavior before racing up to join their family at the beginning of the story. The youngsters’ movements captivate the reader, who may believe that all the villagers have assembled for something amusing. Most people envision a lottery as a good experience in which they can win some money, a permanent place, or something else. Nevertheless, in this narrative, the lottery is held every year because this town maintains the practice of killing a person, the “winner,” in the expectation that the crops would flourish abundantly that year.
The usage of pebbles in “The Lottery” also links the ceremony to the eighth chapter of St. John’s Gospel: the penalty of murdering an adulteress. Still, Christ arrives to release her by informing the audience that whoever is without guilt can cast a stone at this female, and no one casts pebbles at her. In “The Lottery,” no one questions why they are all doing it when the individual did nothing illegal or whether the fields would flourish abundantly if she died (Sianturi et al., 125). Except Tessie, the one who will die, no one is challenging the ritual. Even Elderly Man Warner, who claims to be engaging in the lottery for the seventy-seventh time, accepts it without argument, simply as the spirit of custom.
Everyone in the town, even friends and relatives, participates in this heinous attack. No one wants to deny participation by sitting alone and being ostracized by the community and others. Jackson presents a dystopian world in order to investigate the fundamentals of human behavior and to inquire if humanity is capable of brutality. Tessie must perish since the people are still committed to their gambling custom.
In “The Lottery,” Jackson demonstrates how customs continue to have influence over humans and how these practices resist critical reasoning. The gorgeous day and family reunions inspire the viewer to anticipate something pleasant, particularly the “lottery,” which normally refers to something beneficial to the winner. The image of the opening set is not the same as the horrific violence at the end of the narrative. Jackson appears to warn the reader about the risks of a blind custom in this little village—a tradition that dictates one’s actions without examination (Sianturi et al., 125). Throughout “The Lottery,” the reader is easily drawn into the actual world of tomorrow. There are no lotteries or pebbles to kill individuals, but one can covertly kill others due to their race, visual appeal, profession, family history, or sexual orientation. Discrimination, like chance, still has a tremendous hold on each individual today.
To understand the motivations for killing an unarmed individual that one respects, likes, or even cherishes, one must first examine the root cause of the peasants’ brutality. In reality, at the start of the novel, the peasants are not nasty or malicious in any way but rather are pleasant and enjoy comfortable talks with one another. This narrative is about the erosion of tradition in general (Sianturi et al., 128). This ritual’s extremely old and precious components have been removed or altered. It’s depressing to read this account and realize how ruined a current societal culture is. After a few more years, it will be interesting to see if any portion of this ritual is still practiced or if it has all but vanished. Eventually, these folks will one day realize the true significance of traditions and buy a lottery ticket the right way.
Due to the obvious speed of their storytelling and the desired lesson of the narrative, short stories like Jackson’s “The Lottery” frequently express the writers’ viewpoint on a certain subject or topic. Jackson’s work is a good illustration of how foreshadowing may influence a reader’s perception of a topic. The narrative takes place over the course of a single day, which seems to have a unique significance known to all attendees. The author’s serene settings acquaint the visitor with a quiet and daily life of a rural place somewhere far within the nation’s territory.
In “The Lottery,” Jackson shows how conventions persist in having power over individuals and how these rituals defy critical thinking. The initial set image is not the same as the terrible violence at the end of the story. Jackson appears to be warning the reader about the perils of a blind habit that dictates one’s behavior without consideration in this little hamlet. These people will eventually grasp the true value of traditions and purchase a lottery ticket in the proper manner.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The New Yorker, 1948.
Sianturi, Betty et al. “Revealing Social Phenomena in the Story of ‘The Lottery’. Linguistic Landscape and English Language Studies, 2017.