Religious Tradition In Shirley Jackson's The Lottery

1116 words - 4 pages

Religious Tradition in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery

     While 'The Lottery' is a fictitious story it can be argued that it mirrors the attitude of American culture in how it addresses religious tradition in its major holidays and celebrations.

     Two of the biggest holidays in the United States are Christmas and Easter. Both of which are derived from Christian beliefs. Even though 'The Lottery' is apparently a pagan ritual, violent and horrific, it is appropriate, only by the fact that the participants no longer remember, or seem to care, what the original intent of the ritual or the significance of its traditions.

     When we are introduced to the lottery, we see the traditions that are currently observed. These include the townspeople gathering in the square, the children gathering rocks and making piles of them. A black box is the current receptacle for the lots to be drawn: 'The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put to use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born.' (Jackson 367).

     The story belies the villagers respect for tradition. The lottery official was said to have spoken ?frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box.? (Jackson 367) We know that the black box was not the original vessel for the lottery. Many changes and omissions from lotteries past also, speak of the villagers? apathy for tradition.

     Some changes were out of necessity, ?slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that were used for generations? (Jackson 367) due to the fact that the population size of the village had grown from the original lottery. This made the use of the wood chips unpractical.

     Other changes took place, it would seem, just to make the lottery go faster.
?there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory, tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this part of the ritual had been allowed to lapse. There had been, also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this also had changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only the official to speak to each person approaching.? (Jackson 367)

     The lottery itself seems to be of great importance to the village, but it is never revealed, in a clear way, of what importance it is. Only when we are introduced to Old Man Warner, the only man in the village old enough to remember some of the traditions, do we get an idea of the purpose of the lottery. It seems to be a pagan harvest ritual, as expressed by his old saying: ??Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon?? (Jackson 369). By participating in the lottery the villages crops will...

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