The Lottery, first published in 1948, is a short story written by Shirley Jackson. The work focuses on a small town described without direct references to a specific location. Moreover, the story presents a plot that is centered on the town’s annual tradition of conducting a lottery, a ritual that has been modified throughout the years (Jackson, 1948). People from the entire town gathered to draw pieces of paper from a black box. The character that ended up with a black dot on the paper, Tess Hutchinson, is stoned to death by the villagers.
The author’s primary purpose in writing the short story was to demonstrate the ignorance expressed by people while blindly conforming to such rituals or traditions. The villagers chose to follow through despite the risks instead of canceling the annual lottery for its destructive nature. In the end, they were even willing to attack one of their fellow residents. The presentation method includes objective narration from a third-person point of view. The speaker explains the lottery process, minimizing the description of the character’s personal perspectives and feelings.
Furthermore, the short story relies on symbols to portray its setting and themes. The lottery itself symbolizes unexpected outcomes in life that can hardly be regulated by people, independent of their socio-economic status. Additionally, the act of each family’s head drawing the papers first represents the widely accepted hierarchal social structures that directly impact the fate of each of their members. The stones used in the process reflect communal violence and the often available sources for everyone to act on the violence. The barely functioning black box, like the lottery, has long lost its true value but is still actively used to maintain the town’s tradition. The simplicity of the pieces of paper and the black dots suggest limited reasonability to the lottery and its purpose.
The physical conflict occurs between Tess Hutchinson and the rest of the lottery participants, as she expresses dissatisfaction regarding its structure once her family is drawn from the box. Consequently, the mental and emotional conflicts are experienced by the Hutchinson family, who felt doubtful in the process itself, while retaining the desire to participate in the lottery with everyone. Finally, the moral conflict arises from the general paradox of the villagers participating while not fully understanding and agreeing with its procedures. In the end, these doubts and the pressure of conforming to communal traditions highlight the moral conflict of the story.
Out of all the story’s characters, Tess Hutchinson presents herself as the most likely protagonist, considering her central role in questioning the lottery. On the other hand, from this perspective, the antagonist role is carried by the whole village, consisting of people that ignorantly refused to revise the uncivilized ritual. The main characters comprise Mr. Summers, a successful businessman with an active social life, Mr. Graves, a postmaster that significantly contributed to the organization of the lottery (Jackson, 1948). In addition, Old Man Warner is a conservative man that has lived enough years in the village and devoted this time to defending its traditions. Finally, Mr. And Mrs. Adams, the family that, similarly to the Hutchinsons, began questioning the necessity of the lottery.
The climax-turning point of the story is centered on the episode of Tess Hutchinson being revealed as the winner of the lottery. In the end, the winner is stoned to death by all of the villagers (Jackson, 1948). The epiphany is presented in the instances of Mrs. Hutchinson’s and Mrs. Adams’ questioning of the lottery’s purpose or lack thereof. The denouement is demonstrated by the characters’ willingness to pick a stone and kill another resident. Hence, the main theme involves questioning tradition and conformity in social settings. The moral and ethical values of choosing between family and tradition and the extent to which one must abide by social rules are respectively depicted in the story. Therefore, the main lesson learned includes minding the importance of rationalizing commonly accepted traditions. While historically formed rituals can be appreciated, one must not go against their own principles to conform to the procedures.
Jackson, S. (1948). The Lottery. The New Yorker.