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Shirley Jackson “The Lottery”: Criticizing the Concept of Clinging to Traditions Without Understanding

Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” starts jovial and seemingly happy, with the population of a village gathering for the titular event. The event is annual, and the name describes it accurately, with it consisting of the drawing of lots by every resident of the town. However, as the process continues and a winner is chosen, darker tones begin permeating the story. For some reason, people seem eager not to win the lottery, with the protagonist, Tessie Hutchinson, accusing the lottery manager of cheating and letting her family win. Regardless, the process continues, and a specific member of the family, which happens to be Tessie, is chosen. The story ends with her getting the reward, being stoned to death, but the event is foreshadowed throughout the story and only somewhat surprises the reader.

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The first hint to the nature of the lottery appears in paragraphs 2 and 3 of the story. The adults stand well away from the pile of stones or the lottery box and seem subdued. They call their children back to their sides and reprimand them for failing to comply. The children do not understand the gravity of what is about to happen and treat it as a game, playing around and expectantly stuffing their pockets with stones. Everyone knows what is about to happen, but children treat it as an attraction because they do not yet comprehend the gravity of death.

A more significant hint to the lottery’s true gruesome nature, one that the reader will likely recognize on their first reading of the story, is Tessie’s reaction. While every other member of the family is in control of themselves, she panics and starts to seek ways to either delegitimize the result or pass it on to someone else. Until this moment, the reader may be showing some slight concern about odd signs, such as Warner’s bragging about having been in the lottery for twenty-seven years. However, it is at this moment they will begin worrying. Shortly after, Tessie draws the fatal ticket, and the gruesome truth is revealed, shocking the reader.

However, the true meaning of the story is revealed in several seemingly inconsequential lines, though it is suggested throughout the story. The indifference of the villagers to the situation at large despite their unease at killing someone annually puzzles the reader. The answer to the question of why they may do so is given in the few lines exchanged between Mr. and Ms. Adams and Old Man Warner. There is no driving force behind the lottery, and the villagers are free to quit at any time. However, they choose not to of their own free will simply because the lottery is a tradition. This revelation shocks the reader and makes them wonder about the same justification being used for many real practices.

The real purpose of Jackson’s story is to criticize the concept of clinging to traditions without understanding their origins or implications. Once something has been established for a long enough time, it can perpetuate itself through sheer indifference, regardless of how barbaric or horrific it is. The people will not be comfortable with the tradition, but they will not speak out against it, either, due to various reasons. The author uses psychological undertones to call the reader’s attention to the problem and make them question what atrocities they may tolerate in their life.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 13). Shirley Jackson “The Lottery”: Criticizing the Concept of Clinging to Traditions Without Understanding. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/shirley-jackson-the-lottery-criticizing-the-concept-of-clinging-to-traditions-without-understanding/

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 13). Shirley Jackson “The Lottery”: Criticizing the Concept of Clinging to Traditions Without Understanding. https://studycorgi.com/shirley-jackson-the-lottery-criticizing-the-concept-of-clinging-to-traditions-without-understanding/

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"Shirley Jackson “The Lottery”: Criticizing the Concept of Clinging to Traditions Without Understanding." StudyCorgi, 13 Jan. 2022, studycorgi.com/shirley-jackson-the-lottery-criticizing-the-concept-of-clinging-to-traditions-without-understanding/.

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StudyCorgi. "Shirley Jackson “The Lottery”: Criticizing the Concept of Clinging to Traditions Without Understanding." January 13, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/shirley-jackson-the-lottery-criticizing-the-concept-of-clinging-to-traditions-without-understanding/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Shirley Jackson “The Lottery”: Criticizing the Concept of Clinging to Traditions Without Understanding." January 13, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/shirley-jackson-the-lottery-criticizing-the-concept-of-clinging-to-traditions-without-understanding/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Shirley Jackson “The Lottery”: Criticizing the Concept of Clinging to Traditions Without Understanding'. 13 January.

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