Fear of Change
There are many things that people do every day without questioning why they do them. These are our habits and traditions, and though for the most part they are unimportant and can be a crucial part of our culture and our interactions with each other. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is a story of tradition and the inability to see past it. The lottery ends in a violent murder each year, a bizarre ritual that suggests how dangerous tradition can be when people follow it blindly. The villagers don’t really know much about the lottery’s origin but try to maintain the tradition nevertheless. The villagers’ blind acceptance of the lottery has allowed ritual murder to become part of their town structure. Shirley Jackson demonstrates two literary devices such as character and symbolism throughout the story.
The children in the story represent the lack of innocence, despite the fact that they probably do not understand reality of the circumstances they are expected to participate in the lottery. The children at the beginning of the story are joyfully collecting rocks possibly not fully aware that they would later be used to kill one of their neighbours. After Tessie opens her slip of paper with the black spot on it “The children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles” (244). This quote signifies that the town raises the children to believe that the lottery, that death of a loved one and that not grieving are perfectly normal activities. This quote represents that teaching generation after generation traditions that may no longer apply, that other towns are giving up, will only breed more ignorance. It is significant that the traditions of the lottery are passed on before Davy can fully understand them. This is how he can so innocently participate in the lottery. Jackson demonstrates the dangers of blindly following and accepting traditions. Tessie Hutchinson signifies fighting against tradition, in the story she can be perceived as selfish and simply wanting to protect herself however, she also symbolizes the superior voice of reason. She continually claims “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right” (244). Tessie demonstrates challenging the barbaric tradition that the whole town blindly follows.
Shirley Jackson demonstrates the use of symbols in “The Lottery.” The black bock is a symbol linked to tradition. In the story, the author states “The original paraphernalia for the lottery has been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born” (238). The black box is nearly falling apart, hardly even black anymore after the years of use and storage, but the villagers are unwilling to replace it. There is no reason why the villagers should be loyal to the black box yet unfaithful to other traditions, just as there is no commonsense to why the villagers should continue holding the lottery at all. The purpose of the box, like the lottery itself, has become unclear with the passage of time. It is well worn, but the villagers are hesitant to let it go. The stones play a very big role throughout the story. Stones are significant as murder weapons because first human tools were stones. In the story, the author states “Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lose the original black box, they still remembered to use stones” (244). This quotes demonstrates how the villagers forgot their tradition and rituals but still remembered the cruelty behind it. The villagers are not able to recognize their physical actions therefore they are blindly following traditions. Stones allow everyone in the village to participate freely in the ritual, from the youngest child to Old Man Warner.
In conclusion, the villagers’ tradition has become useless over time. No one knows the real history behind “The Lottery” and no one makes an effort to find out because they are blindly following an event that occurs once a year. Throughout the story, the use of character and symbols demonstrate how the villagers do not recognize what they do and who they teach to kill. Children are taught at a very young age to pick up a stone and throw it at the winner whereas elders know the cruelty behind it but blindly still follow what is not right. The villagers are aware that the act of stoning is inhuman but no one wants to stand and voice their opinion for fear of going against society’s standards. Imagine, waiting anxiously once a year for that time to come with only relying on luck to determine your destiny.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing, 3rd edition. Ed. X.J Kennedy & Dana Gioia, Pennsylvania: Pearson/Longman, 2010.