Shirley Jackson’s Short Story The Lottery
Shirley Jackson’s story The Lottery is the most analyzed story in the history of American literature. It was published in New York in 1948 for the first time. It is a unique story that is different from other short stories in its gruesome plot and its ending. Its main theme is about blindly following tradition and no one has the right to ask a question about their tradition. The central idea of this story is that people are vulnerable to persecution by a large group of people or communities. A person could feel safe when he got support form a group. It was experienced by Tessie when he won the yearly lottery, and later on, the experiences of Dunbar and Watson families have explored it to a higher level. After winning the lottery Tessie examined that her family and community bonds had broken down in his town. Here we will discuss the negative impacts of unquestioned or unchallenged dogma on the individual’s life. To learn more about the vulnerability of an individual in society we will study other examples discussed by other authors. Humans in society are reluctant to accept any reality against their traditions which they learned from their proceeds.
Many villages have rejected this outdated tradition, however, this village still had the culture of the lottery. The people of this village were reluctant to reject their outdated and useless traditions and cultural traits. They have the lottery every year and it was for a long time without any interruption. This tradition could be traced back to the 18th century and the era of slavery, to retain their slaves. After the elevation of slavery, it was continued until 1919 to prevent women from their right to vote. Then in the third phase till 1960 it was used as an official public policy for racial discrimination. So this is one of the lessons the author has conveyed in this short story and represented the vulnerability, and discrimination with a specific class of people. Tessie was a woman who had never missed the lottery and was willing to participate in it every year. Once she draws a paper that had a black mark on, she was stoned and sentenced to death. She arrived late because she had forgotten the lottery day. She was a free soul, so her protest agist the lottery led her to such a brutal penalty. Hutchinson’s family had drawn the marked paper, she exclaimed that it wasn’t fair, so she was subsequently stoned to death. The villagers didn’t listen to the reality and truth spoken by her. Her family was not selected to participate in the lottery, so that might be one of the possible reasons for her fairness, but it was the moot point. Whatever forced her to speak out, but the reaction of villagers was not fair.
Traditions, norms, and rules are not above humanity, every person has the right and freedom to talk about the flaws in our traditions and other systems. Some people do not have tolerance and follow their culture and tradition blindly. Not limited to that, they are trying to impose their ideas, norms, and values on others as well. The tradition of the lottery was the best example of ignorance, discrimination, and superstitious beliefs of people. Tessie was stoned to death by her family members, friends, neighbors, and other villagers. She would have realized that in hardship even your close friends and family don’t support you. The villagers continued to follow their violent and senseless rituals, and no one was allowed to talk against their tradition. There were certain traditionalists such as Warner the old man who decided this sentence. According to Jackson (1948, p.258), Warner asked people to take stones and let’s finish it quickly. He was shouting to provoke people “Come on, come on everyone”. In history, there are unlimited examples of such incidents that happened with truthful people. We have an example of Socrates, Galileo, and other people who unveiled the reality and truth which were against the tradition and virtues, people rejected their ideas and hurt them.
Salman Rushdie stated in his book “Imagine There’s no Heaven” that people have imperfect knowledge of this world. He added that people should live in their own time. Because ancient wisdom is nonsenses of the modern age. People who are living with their previous traditions and knowledge far away form the truth (Rushdie, 1999, p.142). As in the story of Shirley Jackson, the villagers were stuck with their tradition, and one who talked against the wrongdoing was killed brutally. He has questioned the sacred books, and the beliefs of people, that why people believe their stories as the most truthful than other’s stories. He also unveiled the flaws in the religious teachings which might not be true.
According to Rushdie religions have imprisoned their followers, and they are not accepting the scientific observations regarding the universe which are true and factual. However, many religions have proposed false theories regarding the creation of the universe, such as African mythology vomited the universe, Shiva Nataraja the Lord of Dance danced to create this universe and many other similar beliefs. He was considered as a free thinker and analyzed the creation of the universe, and compared it with different religious beliefs regarding the creation of this world, which are nonsense and opposite to the scientific realities.
This story was about mob psychology and the people who were blindly following their traditions regardless of thinking of their consequences. They defended their tradition and shut the mouth which spoke the truth and reality. The villagers stoned a woman to death because she screamed about the unfairness and deceive of the lottery. The violence that took place in this story can be generalized to any context around the world. In our modern world, no one can challenge certain beliefs because of their consequences. There are three major themes of this story such as the wrongfully designated scapegoats of the society, following the crowd and avoid critical thinking, and the reluctance of people to reject the outdated traditions.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery (1948).” The Treasury of American Short Stories (1949).
Rushdie, Salman. “Imagine There’s No Heaven.”.” Step Across This Line (1999): 141-144.