Aggression as a Theme in The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

The story compares commonplace details of current life with a barbaric ceremony known as the “lottery”. The setting is a small American town where the inhabitants display a commemorative mood as they meet on June 27 for their annual lottery. After an individual from each family draws a small piece of paper, one slip with a black spot designates the Hutchinson family has been chosen. When every member of that family draws once more to see which family member “wins,” Tessie Hutchinson is the concluding picking. She is then stoned by everybody present, including her own relatives.

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Shirley Jackson takes every concern to portray a beautiful morning in a little village. It is clear and bright. Flowers are everywhere. The grasses throughout the village are sparkling green. The town square is the place of the annual Lottery, which was a two-hour matter for this very little village of three hundred souls. It is a intense and happy scene.

Mr. Summers, Mr. Graves and Mr. Martin are the village’s most central persons. With a flourishing coal business, Summers can be regarded as the leader of this intimately interwoven society where men dominate the women. The women are actually pleased with their location in the social hierarchy. Tessie assents to the idea of the gamble until she is chosen as the person to be executed, screaming: “It isn’t fair.” Tessie’s unexpected change of mind upon having her own name selected provides to highlight the hypocrisy of a society in which violence is accepted until it becomes personal. Except for Mr. and Mrs. Adams’ words to Old Man Warner, there is no notion of ending the lottery. It is an ingrained ritual, and the villagers regard industrious labor to be a supernatural protection against being selected, as indicated by the Old Man Warner, never selected during his 77 years. When Mrs. Adams tells Warner that some of the other townships have stopped holding the annual lotteries, he replies, “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” He is a conservative who views the annual event as a way of life. His comment about those considering an end to the lottery: “Next thing you know, they’ll be desiring to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while.” Summers, whose view takes priority, doesn’t feel the necessity to oppose the lottery, and the villagers are all tending to continue the tradition.

The scenery of executing Tessie is short, and takes approximately twenty lines. But this in no way diminishes the cruelty of the process, as the young girl is executed with one of the most barbarian means of killing. It is necessary to emphasize, that the action takes part in the country which regards itself as the most civilized and democratic. It is clear enough, that the stoning itself is just the symbol of interpersonal relations. It is claimed to emphasize, that the American friendship, or even parental relations are the weakest in the world, as even Tessie’s family threw stones in her. This scene just signified that in the cruel society one can not rely on the friends or relatives, but just on oneself.

When the men of the village come they stand away from the stones, joke quietly, and smile in stead of laugh. The women get there next. As they join their spouses, they call to their kids.

Again, it emphasizes also the disparity of men and women in the society. This is the classical picture of the American society of the end of 1940s, beginning of the 1950s, when the story was written and published. It may be observed throughout the whole plot, but the culmination of this moment is the underlining of the absence of the lotteries in the other villages by Mrs. Adams: “some places have already quit lotteries.” But her offer stays unmentioned even by her husband.

Aggression is a major subject in “The Lottery.” While the stoning is a brutal and vicious act, Jackson improves its emotional shock by setting the story in an apparently cultured and peaceful society. This proposes that horrific acts of violence can take place anywhere at anytime, and they can be committed by the most usual people. Jackson also deals with the psychology behind mass brutality by describing a community whose citizens reject to stand as individuals and combat the lottery and who instead unthinkingly take part in the killing of a guiltless and established member of the village with no noticeable grief or compunction.

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Shirley Jackson 1982. The Lottery and Other Stories. Farrar, Straus and Giroux publisher.

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