Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a short story which reveals the dark side of human nature. It depicts the collective unconscious of the people of a village, of about three hundred people. The author brings them together to take part in an annual rite in the form of a lottery, to choose a person from among the families gathered. The unlucky will be stoned to death, so that, as the traditional belief goes, it will bring a better harvest to the villagers. This event provides the author an occasion to unravel the true nature of the people, which is lurking beneath the façade of civilized life. The story thus ends with a message that human nature is basically evil. This paper is a personal response to Jackson’s story.
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I intend to dwell upon the human selfishness reflected in the story by Jackson, though there are several other aspects of human behavior revealed by the author, like that of violence. So long it does not affect one’s self; man is indifferent to the sufferings of other people. The lottery is an annual ritual and the villagers know that they are not only going to witness a cruel scene, but each one of them is also going to partake in it. Yet, they are not only quite indifferent to the impending tragedy, but also exhibit an atmosphere of mirth as they move towards the place of lottery. The children by piling up the stones show that they are only happy to carry forward this ancient ritual. The black box which has lost its original look stands there as a symbol of the continuing collective barbarism in that village.
A look at the words used at the opening of the story, like “morning”, “fresh”, “warm”, “summer”, “flowers”, and “richly green”, shows the happy mood of the people as they move towards the place of cruelty. They exhibit a festival look and joy. Only when the ill luck strikes a particular person, the thought of tragedy and its unfairness shocks him or her. The thought of one’s material prosperity makes one blind to the tragic situations around one or in the world. Values get eroded as greed conquers man. I feel deeply moved by the story when I find the girl who is going to be stoned to death suddenly realizes the lack of fairness in the game. This reminds me of an event I experienced once. In the busy morning hours, the traffic suddenly came to a halt on a bridge across a broad river in my city. A man had jumped into the river in order to kill himself and the police and the people were trying to rescue the man. The man sitting beside me commented, “What a time to kill himself! I’ll miss my flight”.
Jackson wants to point out that this capitalist attitude is inherent in human nature. The power of tradition in the society and the power of greed are the two motivating factors in the story. Greed is more forceful, because the villagers did make changes in the procedures of the lottery as the population in the village increased. It is not accidental that the main actor in “The Lottery” is Mr. Summers, who has no children and his wife is a scold. He symbolizes the head, be it the head of village, state, or a nation. The fact is that such sterile person holds the key to the future of the children. He also stands for status quo, refusing to entertain changes for a better society.
I accept the valuable messages the story radiates. Even the names of the characters, if scanned properly, can reveal that they stand for the primitive instincts in man which still control the social attitude and activities. Unless we learn to be unselfish and wipe out our collective instinct towards violence, our own sisters and brothers will be the victims. Today I stone another person and tomorrow only when it is hurled against me I think of the absence of fairness. It will be too late.