“The Lottery” is a short story by Shirley Jackson, first published on June 26, 1948. The story was initially met with negative critical reception due to its violent nature and portrayal of the potentially dangerous nature of human society. It was even banned in some countries. However, “The Lottery” is now widely accepted as a classic American short story and is used in classrooms throughout the country.
Jackson’s story takes a critical look at what can result when the customs and laws that govern society go unchallenged. She sets up the story by showing that the townspeople are quite normal. They attend the lottery while having everyday discussions about the mundane topics of life, such as taxes, food, and housework. Nevertheless, they then knowingly take part in a ritualistic lottery that results in the stoning to death of a community member. Witnessing the townspeople carrying out such an act without showing any remorse is a frightening concept, but their reason for doing so is deeply rooted in their adherence to the tradition of holding an annual lottery.
Tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past. As Michael Davidson explains, “Shirley Jackson's story offers a dark reminder of the dangers of following traditional practices uncritically”. The character named Mr. Warren best represents the unchallenging attitude that allows the practice to continue. He repeatedly condemns those members of other community that have abandoned the lottery as “young fools”. He believes that their lack of respect for this traditional practice will surely bring bad fortune to their lives. Mr. Warren reveals the ritual’s practical purpose when he states, "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon".
Though the lottery is a tradition in the town, the people seem to have slowly lost sight of its purpose over the years. Being the oldest community member, Mr. Warren is the only character in the story who displays any sort of connection to its original intent. The younger members of the community carry out the ritual in a detached manner. In addressing the difference in attitude between Mr. Warren and the other community members, A.R. Coulthard contends that, “Old Man Warner is usually taken to be the most allegorically evil devotee of custom, but he is merely the most honest”. Old man Warner is the only community member that still wants to do the lottery for its original purpose. He believes a sacrifice will bring a good harvest, while “the others are willing to risk their own life for the sheer pleasure of an unpunished annual killing” (Coulthard, A.R.). This leads readers to question whether human nature is inherently good or bad, a theme which Jackson explores through “The Lottery”
Human nature is the distinguishing characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling and acting that humans tend to have naturally. At the heart of “The Lottery” lies the question of whether...