Shirley Jacksons The Lottery is a short story about a seemingly idyllic village with a tradition that seems happy but has a bizarre plot twist at the end. The tale begins with villagers gathering in the Town square for the lottery that they have to finish in time for lunch. It seems like a festive tradition at the start. However, some descriptions by the author foreshadow the gloom that the occasion carries. The pile of stones that the men of the village seem to shy away from is a symbol of possible bad memories associated with the pile and the occasion they are gathered for. Most people in the village are of a generation that does not remember how things were in the past years. The portrayal of the characters in the story predicts a likely candidate for winning the lottery. Tessie Hutchinson arrives late at the town square commenting that she had forgotten what day it was. Her arrival sets her apart from the rest of the people since she is portrayed as a non-conformist. The interaction of the characters in The Lottery is a depiction of the evil that is inherent in human beings.
When The Lottery begins, the village people are gathered for an important routine ceremony that represents a long-standing tradition. Their manner does not give away the nature of the tradition. The children are present for what will eventually turn into an inhumane, bloody and murderous event. The children are the first to pick stones and compete in acquiring the most and the best. To understand the tendency towards savagery and violence, it is important to understand peoples history with violence.
From religion to secular culture, history has been marred with violent recollection of battles, war, murder and generally violent conduct among people. In the Bible, Cain killed Abel over jealousy. Wars and killing are present throughout the Bible. The ancient Romans were fond of gladiators and the battles were a symbolic ritual for them (Gerner). The gladiators fought to the death and their encounters embodied the savage nature inherent in human beings with people watching and enjoying the battles (Gerner). History has shown that the capacity that man has to do evil through savagery has no limits. Human beings are therefore capable of carrying out acts of brutality that may be embedded deep within their character and only exposed by the situation.
The demeanor of the village people during the gathering veils their cruelty. They act as if nothing cruel is about to happen. The narrator actually points out that the ceremony can be done in time for lunch. To put lunch as an important priority after a savage stoning of an individual is only an act that can be carried out by characters that are brutal and savage. There is no remorse from the villagers as they prepare to select a sacrificial lamb. For all they know, anyone of them could have been selected for the stoning. However, despite the potential fatal outcome of the ceremony they can afford to have some humor among them. Tessie jokes to Mr. Summers about not leaving the dishes in the sink not knowing she would die after keeping her house in order. The casual manner in which the village people approach the death of one of their own at their hands is an indication of the ability to inflict harm at a moments notice regardless of common sense (Blood).
Tessie Hutchinsons late arrival at the village square presents her as someone unique from the rest; possibly a threat due to her demeanor. She arrives boisterously possibly due to the hurry she was in for being late. However, unlike the other wives who arrived calmly and placidly and stood by their husbands quietly, she makes quite a fuss as she exchanges pleasantries with Mrs. Delacroix before making her way to her family. The crowd has to part for her to make her way through to her family. On the day of this important occasion, the arrival of Tessie renders a light tone to the atmosphere. She and her husband endure some teasing as she approaches and even Mr. Summers chips in. at the time, Tessies breach is inappropriate since everyone attends the lottery and everyone shows up on time. The whole ceremony is based on the sacrificial lamb archetype (Cervo 183). Tessies casual approach to the occasion also shows her perception of the cruelty associated with the event. It is a norm to her and does not occasion much hassle. However, reality seems to hit her almost literally when she realizes it is her turn to be the sacrificial subject.
Tessie Hutchinson is portrayed as a free spirit with little worry over some norms that mark society. She is tied up in her chores she forgets one of the most important occasions in the village. Her ability to joke about it is an indication of the free spirit she is. She does not feel the weight of the occasion since compared to other villagers who are anxious; she is not in the least bothered. Tessie Hutchinson is also not afraid of the attention that she receives from the whole village. She arrives late and causes a stir that for a moment interrupts the proceedings. The attention of the gathering shifts to her despite the gravity of the occasion. Tessie is not in the least bothered by the significance of the lottery due to her nature as a free spirit. Her free spirit nature allows her to approach her potential death a family member, or a fellow villagers death, nonchalantly.
Mrs. Delacroixs reaction when Tessie is selected is a symbol of the ability of people to direct cruelty at each other regardless of the circumstances. Mrs. Delacroix and Tessie share a brief moment that indicates they are close associates. However, when Tessie is selected, Mrs. Delacroix picks up a stone so large she has to lift it with both hands ready to inflict harm on Tessie.
Tessie does not believe that the lottery is fair practice only because her husband and eventually her draws the condemned paper. She protests despite not being listened to by the villagers. Tessie says the process is not fair possibly because it affects her family. However, she is reminded by Mrs. Grave and Mrs. Delacroix that they all took the same chance of drawing the marked paper. The rigidness of Old man Warner in supporting a tradition that may have lost its meaning shows the inherent nature of cruelty and evil in people. Old man Warner is a staunch supporter of the lottery and believes it should be observed despite times having changed.
The response of Tessie Hutchinsons husband Bill is uncanny for man whose wife is supposed to be stoned. Bill asks her to shut up when she protests that the process and the whole activity is neither fair nor right. In fact, no one seems to hope that Tessie is not selected for the stoning. Mrs. Grave and Mrs. Delacroix are disinterested in the pleas Tessie gives. A little girl whispers that she prays it is not Nancy. The crowd sighs in relief when Bill Juniors paper is not marked. They are all apprehensive when Bill opens his paper but obviously relieved when he draws a blank. When it is evident that it is Tessies turn, they do not hesitate to drive her to her place of death. Someone hands Tessies son a number of rocks to take part in the stoning of his mother. The Hutchinson family do not seemed to be moved by the apparent demise of their mother figure.
The Lottery is a good example of the evil tendencies that are inherent in human beings. The people in the village are bent on observing a crude tradition simply because they have carried it out for long. Their casual approach to the inevitable death by stoning is a telltale sign of the capacity for cruelty that human beings are capable of. Tessie arrives late at the ceremony and is lively despite the significance of the occasion. The people can afford to have light moments despite knowing what they are about to do; condemning one of their own to a horrible death. Bill Hutchinson tells his wife Tessie to accept her fate since the tradition must be observed. Mrs. Delacroix picks out a heavy stone to take part in condemning someone she is apparently a close associate. The Lottery shows the inherent evil that defines human character and the levels it can drive human action.
Blood, Jonathan. "March 11, 2004 Feminism in Shirley Jacksons The Lottery." (2004).
Cervo, Nathan. "Jackson's the Lottery." The Explicator 50.3 (1992): 183-185.
Gerner, Desiree. "A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH: GLADIATORIAL GAMES, SACRIFICIAL RITUAL AND LITERARY ALLUSION." MA thesis. U of Oregon, 2010. Print.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery and Other Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. Print.
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