The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Towns and people are full of tradition, both good and bad. In Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery,” the village depicted participates in a tragic tradition that they can’t seem to forget. Jackson describes the village, its people, and the tradition in specific detail, all the way up to the violent killing in which it culminates. The lottery itself is a village tradition in which each household draws a paper to determine who will be brutally stoned that year. The tradition of the lottery is meant to shock readers into examining their own traditions to determine their value and continue or reject them. The tradition begins with Mr. Summers bringing out the black box that holds the papers each head of household will draw. The black box is described as being shabby and falling apart, but no one will replace it because it’s tradition. The box itself represents those pieces of tradition that a person follows blindly. It makes no sense to be loyal to traditions if they cannot be explained; in The Lottery, no one knows why the black box is still used but everyone is afraid to change it because of the tradition. Furthermore, it is explained that in years past the town used wooden chips but now uses paper. If some rules can be changed or ignored, but others cannot, the tradition itself is devalued. These random changes occur to show the reader that the tradition itself, while seemingly logical and purposeful, is very random.

Another reason to question tradition is the same reason the villagers themselves question the lottery. Other towns and villagers have stopped holding the lottery, but this particular village still does it. They don’t even know why they do it; they don’t know how the tradition started, but they are still determined to follow it simply because of its tradition. In other words, a tradition should be questioned if there is no logical reason to follow it anymore and especially if it involves no benefit to the people.

Jackson concludes the story with the end of the lottery – the stoning of an innocent housewife. She is stoned simply because that is the tradition of the lottery. She is innocent, and yet no one cares. Instead, they kill her without hesitation and with fervor. This violence is a shock to the reader and is the final blow to tradition. Some traditions are carried out blindly and yet the people continue them for years even when they result in such violent, disturbing, unjustifiable acts.

The moral to the story is that by not questioning tradition, the town participates in and encourages loyalty to a system that is ultimately dangerous. One must break the cycle by thoroughly investigating traditions and standing by them loyally only when one can justify all aspects of its actions. To blindly follow a tradition may not be openly violent like the lottery, but it is just as random, illogical, and unjustified.


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