In our society we have many traditions. These traditions all have certain meanings behind them; however, many of those meanings tend to be lost or forgotten. The holiday of Thanksgiving was originally a celebration to commemorate the arrival of the pilgrims in the new world and their first interactions with the Native Americans. So then why is it still celebrated today? There is no actual purpose in today’s society to observe this custom. It has just continued to be observed because of past traditions. There is no logical reason to continue this fête, as it holds little or no value. With the passage of time the actual reasons have been lost or distorted, such as in the case of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”
Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” focuses on an outdated tradition, similar to the holiday of Thanksgiving; the town in her story observes a custom which holds little or no reasonable purpose in society. The lottery is performed every year, and the winner – instead of winning money or a prize – gets stones thrown at them by the other town members. What is the purpose of this lottery? There existed an actual purpose behind it; it was used as a ritual to influence the growing season, but in the modern time period in which Jackson sets the story, this purpose is unclear. The tradition is old-fashioned and has lost all explanation behind its use.
Those who participate can only remember certain parts of the ritual of the lottery, and even then, these parts are not performed the same. Other parts have been completely done away with and forgotten.
At one time, some people remembered, 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...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 in 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 for the official to speak to each person approaching (Jackson 75) .
The town members can no longer remember exactly how the lottery is supposed to be performed, and thus either substitute different actions as part of the ritual, or do away with them altogether.
In the story there is only one explanation as to why the lottery is used. This explanation is given by Old Man Warner, who himself has survived seventy six lotteries. Old Man Warner states, “Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (77). According to this, the lottery was used as a ritual to promote a plentiful harvest season. In all societies the success of agriculture is vital to survival. Farmers “can only wait and hope” that the harvest season will be successful. From this hope, meaningless rituals are created, even when the ritual has no direct relationship (Griffin 44). The townspeople would sacrifice...