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Tradition Or Cruelty In Shirley Jackson's The Lottery

2242 words - 9 pages

Tradition or Cruelty in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery

Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" satirizes barbaric traditions in a supposedly civilized village. As the story begins, the villagers appear to be fairly civilized and carry on fairly modern lifestyles. This is assumed by the men's discussion of planting, rain, tractors, and taxes. The lottery was outdated to such a degree that some may think that the tradition is primal competition of anthropoid beasts. On the other hand, some think that carrying on the tradition was necessary. The question that must be answered is: Was this a barbaric tradition or was this ritual an honest attempt to better other villager's lives?

Shortly after the publication of "The Lottery" in The New Yorker, "a flood of mail - hundreds of letters-deluged both the editorial offices in New York and the post office in Bennington" (Friedman 63). Miss Jackson said that out of all the letters sent, there were only thirteen that were positive responses, and those were from her friends (63). The letters consisted of "bewilderment, speculation, and old-fashioned abuse" (63). It is obvious that the initial reaction from the public was extremely negative. The readers perceived the story as a satire on them, as if they practiced barbaric ways.

Indeed there are countless references, hints, and blatant comments that refer to the barbaric theme in this story. The fact that the lottery itself is scheduled for 10:00 and it took only two hours, conveniently timed so that the villagers could get back home to eat lunch, shows that there is no concern for the "winner" of the lottery, only for themselves. The children collect stones, competing against the other children, and keeping friends from stealing from their pile of rocks. This portrays that the lottery is only a game to the children. The adults are nonchalant too; Mrs. Hutchinson can't help but finish washing her dishes before she meets her family at the square. After Tessie is the chosen one to die, it is her friend that initiates the stoning. Mrs. Delacroix, who picks up a stone so large that she has to use two hands, starts the murder by telling others to "come on" and "hurry up." This shows no mercy for the victim, even when it may be a loved one. However the action of barbarism that tops all the others is Davy Hutchinson: "The most pathetic figure of all is Davy Hutchinson who survives the drawing but who is forced, unknowingly, to take part in the ordeal. Someone gives him a few pebbles so that he, too, may share in the collective murder of his mother" (Friedman 67).

The above excerpt demonstrates "that one function of the lottery is to change the relationship between community and victim" (Magill 1673). At one instant all of the villagers are equal, but after the person is chosen to die, the rest of the village are predators hunting their prey. This change in feelings portrays a barbaric instinct towards the loser.

Yet another inhumane action is how Nancy and...

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