Themes of Violence in “The Lottery” Story
In the short tale, The Lottery, violence is portrayed as a plea to tradition and social order. The narrator shows that while the people seem to be keepers of tradition, the irony associated with their devotion is their inability to remember its details. That is the reason why “no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box” (Jackson 141). The people rumor songs and salute about the event, but none knows why they celebrate the practice. The truth of the event has long been lost among the villagers, but as Jackson writes, “although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still used stones,” violence remains (238). Through what the story depicts and the various interpretations, this literary analysis shows the villagers’ inability to draw the line between what is true and what is fiction.
The behaviors and attitudes of the villagers, relative to the practice, translate to an extended reconsideration of their doubt and religious association. However, the religious aspect of the practice is fading fast with the changes in the villagers’ lifestyles. Mrs. Adams confirms the practice’s religious nature changes by saying the tradition is on the verge of extinction since other villages have already abandoned it (Franklin 47). With the realization, Mr. Warner cautions about impending trouble with the villagers forsaking the practice. Mr. Warner’s exact words are, “Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves” (Jackson 141). Taking part in the practice alone does not guarantee the villagers’ understanding of their association with the lifelong practice, and further, Jackson illustrates how they mock the ritual, for now, for a specific reason.
The way the villagers associated with the tradition represents an illogic loyalty. The relationship between the three-legged stool, which supports the dreaded black box, and the people is distant. The narrator observes how the people distance themselves from the stool and shows, “villagers kept their distance, leaving space between themselves and the stool” (Jackson 143). The observation translates to an understanding that no villager inclines to approach the stool despite acknowledging its existence. Fear is deeply entrenched among the people, and its association mirrors how they relate to the ritual. Due to their fear, the people allow the stool to continue supporting the worn, torn, and dreaded black box, and their distance reflect their inability to confront the practice (Jackson and Homes 73). Despite having doubts and being afraid, no villager likes or enjoys keeping the ritual with the tradition.
The ritual in the short story symbolizes the human psyche paradox in terms of violence and compassion and is embodied in the unfair treatment given to the unlucky participant. Like every year before this, the villagers have been picking the paper clips, and the one that picks the marked slip is stoned. However, the villagers have a mistaken misconception that they preserve the ritual. The tale with an initial read oddly strikes the audience; nonetheless, its content is subjective. With Bill Hutchinson’s selection for this year’s practice, Tessie cries foul, claiming Bill had no time to prepare; only then can the audience realize the undercurrent of the tension and violence with the rest of the villagers. The people act barbarically, and the need for everyone to participate in the ritual means no one takes the responsibility of killing the unlucky participant. The killing of the unlucky participant mirrors the consistency in violence the villagers prioritize, which perhaps reflects the acts of every human.
Franklin, Ruth. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. 2017.
Jackson, Shirley, and A. M. Homes. The Lottery and Other Stories. New York, N.Y: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2019.
Jackson, Shirley. Shirley Jackson: Four Novels of the 1940s 50s (loa #336): the Road Through the Wall. Library of America. 2020.