Tradition Uncovered In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

977 words - 4 pages

One main theme in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is tradition nonetheless. Although tradition is most commonly thought to be somewhat of a social glue that holds families and communities together, Shirley Jackson reveals a whole new side consisting of the dangers following traditional practices. The lottery is normalized as being an early summer ritual that proves to be consistent and promising in a plentiful harvest, as mentioned by Old Man Warner. The real purpose of the lottery is never fully explained, but it is still conducted every year without suggestion of discontinuation. There proves to be a pattern of tendency to be trapped by tradition.
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At one point, word is mentioned that another town is abolishing the tradition. This statement is quickly met with the howling disapproval of Old Man Warner. Snorting, Old Man Warner refers to the northern folk as a “pack of crazy fools” (Jackson 136). His famous quote — “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” — suggests that the sacrificial ritual may have once held functional, agricultural purpose that is now outdated, given the modern improvements of the story including a coal plant, bank, and post office. Old Man Warner, like the tattered box, may also represent tradition, “which is continually threatened by and hostile to new ideas and attitude, here represented by ‘the young folks’” (Michelson).
Although it is clear that the lottery is nothing but trouble, and there is no convincing reason as to why one villager must be sacrificed by stoning each year, the fact that “people ain’t the way they used to be” (Jackson 138), might actually be a positive step away from mindlessly following tradition. Shamefully, "much of the horror stems from the discrepancy between the normal outward appearance of the village life and its people and the heinous act these people commit in the guise of tradition” (Friedman). After the Hutchinson family is chosen for the stoning, Tessie goes on a bit of a rampage feverishly stating that the drawing was not fair and her husband did not get enough time to draw the slip of paper he wanted. As she continues on complaining, “Tessie desperately tries to improve her odds for survival by defying tradition and adding her married daughter to the killing pool” (Coulthard). Sarcasm further expresses the author’s condemnation of unthinking tradition because “although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones” (Jackson 138). The ironic cruelty attributed to the followers of the...

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