Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery': How tradition is skewed

Essay by michelle8998College, UndergraduateA, November 2004

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In the short story 'The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson the theme is an illustration of certain aspects of human nature, namely blindly following established traditions without comprehending their purpose or understanding their history. When readers think of winning a lottery they relate that win with good fortune and happiness, but not in this case. The town's some 300 citizens stone the winner of Jackson's lottery to death seemingly unemotionally and detached from this gruesome event because they are following a prescribed ritual.

One of the human natures that Jackson uses to develop the theme is that of man's indifference to other's misfortunes. The men joke of 'planting and rain' and the official of the lottery states that they 'should get this over with so they can go back to work,' (p 2). The town jokes and laughs at this, possibly to make what they are about to do easier.

Jackson shows how man's commonsense and morality is overridden by tradition; the townspeople know it is evil but they still carry out this custom.

Man's facility for resisting change is another part of human nature that Jackson uses to further the theme. It is shown in multiple ways. The description of the black box and how year after year they talk about making a new box but no one wants to take this on. No one will take this on because that would alter the way things were done and might possibly upset the tradition. Another example is in the scene with Mr. Adams and Old Man Warner where they are talking about other towns having given up the lottery. Old Man Warner says that he has been participating in the lottery for 77 years and there is 'nothing but trouble' in quitting the lottery, showing that the townspeople...