In “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, the people of the small community reveal the psychological effects of participating in public executions and how these effects lead to social conformity. The main characters Tessie Hutchinson and Old Man Warner reveal the varying psychological reactions one would have from participating in a public execution. Other townspeople have developed dissociative symptoms that explain their conformity to the lottery. Jackson herself shows psychological symptoms because of the way readers treated her after the 1948 publication of “The Lottery.” The psychological effects of participating in public executions lead people to conform to societal norms to avoid becoming an outcast or target.
In the beginning of the story, Jackson writes, “School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them…” (Jackson 1). The children show unusual feelings of uneasiness from their new freedom because of their community’s annual lottery. The purpose of the annual lottery is to maintain control and force social conformity. The children’s feelings are explained in “Enforcing Social Conformity: A Theory of Authoritarianism,” by Stanley Feldman:
It is not necessary to believe that people are inherently antisocial; one must simply believe that, left to their own devices, people pursuing their self-interest and behaving as they choose will not produce a stable social order. People may need the guidance of socially accepted norms and rules to behave
appropriately in social settings. (48)
In the field of psychology, the word “antisocial” means “hostile or harmful to organized society” (Merriam-Webster.com). Feldman’s theory suggests that people are generally greedy and seek to fulfill their own desires and needs without concern for how their actions will affect other people. Some people, the children in “The Lottery,” for example, need disturbing social events such as the lottery in order to make them behave in a civilized manner.
The character Bobby Martin is a prime example of a child in this small community who conforms to the social rules proposed by the annual lottery and leads other children to conform: “Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selection the smoothest roundest stones” (Jackson 1). Adults such as Old Man Warner may view the children’s eagerness for the lottery as a sign that the lottery is effectively establishing and maintaining social order in the community.
When Mr. Adams tells Old Man Warner about the cessation of lotteries in surrounding villages, Old Man Warner replies harshly by saying, “‘Pack of crazy fools… Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work anymore, live that way for awhile… First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery.’” Old...