Children learn about morality while being educated by their parents and teachers in the contexts of certain communities and cultures. Depending on what they see and perceive as ethical and normal, children form their own views and behavior. In her short story “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson discusses numerous provocative themes in a controversial and indirect manner while referring to the ritual of a lottery regularly conducted in a fictional town.
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On one June day, the citizens of this town gathered on the square to participate in the lottery. The heads of families drew slips of paper from a box, and when Bill Hutchinson realized he had the slip with a mark, he was to conduct the lottery among his family members. Tessie Hutchinson, his wife, received the slip with a black mark, but she said it was unfair. Nobody listened to her, and the crowd stoned the woman to death (Jackson 7). Although Jackson discusses such issues as violence, the danger of rituals, and the role of women, the education of children based on the examples of immoral and violent behavior is a critical theme to analyze.
The children depicted in the story seem to perceive the cruel ritual of the lottery as rather normal and even unavoidable. Furthermore, they seem not to understand the moral nature of this act because they participate in preparing the pile of stones and then in the process of stoning Mrs. Hutchinson. The boys coming to join the event were talking about their school life, but not about a dramatic performance in which they would participate in an hour (Jackson 1).
Some of the boys coming to the square “made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys” (Jackson 1). Thus, these children were involved in creating a pile of stones as in any other joyful game, and, what is more important, they acted with the silent approval of their parents. Since their parents did not regard the lottery as the act of violence and immorality, it is possible to state that children had no opportunity to perceive the situation in a different way.
Boys were brought up to perform their roles of the heads in families, and they were educated that the ritual was normal. However, the author accentuates some reactions and words in the crowd that can help the reader understand that something is wrong and unnatural in these people’s behavior. When a tall boy, one of the Watsons, says “I’m drawing for my mother and me,” his reactions emphasize his fear and nervousness (Jackson 3).
The boy “blinked his eyes nervously and ducked his head as several voices in the crowd said things like … ‘Glad to see your mother’s got a man to do it’” (Jackson 3). Living in a community where violent rules and rituals are easily followed, and the norms of morality are shifted, children have to perform rather unnatural roles without questioning the ethical aspect of this specific behavior. Furthermore, they receive the approval of the crowd because this type of behavior is supported in their world during decades in spite of its wrong nature. This approval is emphasized by the author in different parts of the story to put emphasis on the paradox of the situation.
In the described community, people seem not to distinguish between adults and children who equally participate in the lottery. As a result, these children cannot see the difference between right and wrong actions, and they will not see it in the future. In this context, the remarkable example is the situation when little Dave also draws a slip of paper from the box: “Davy put his hand into the box and laughed” (Jackson 6).
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With reference to other contexts, that situation could become the illustration for funny seasonal lotteries conducted in many US towns and villages. However, after realizing the actual meaning of this action and the role of children in this event, the reader becomes shocked and bewildered by the characters’ smiles and even laugh. The problem is that children have to perceive the event that can dramatically change their life as an exciting performance because they follow their parents’ attitude, vision, and education regarding the lottery. If these children were educated in the other reality, they would identify, understand, and even oppose the cruelty of the lottery.
Becoming aware of the nature of the event, the reader is also shocked when realizing that children must participate in killing their mother, Tessie Hutchinson. If children are expected to stone their parents feeling the support of the crowd, there are no chances that they will act in another way. Jackson presented this shocking fact and described the act of stoning the woman using the unemotional wording and tone: “The children had stones already.
And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles” (7). Thus, the children, Bill Jr., Nancy, and Dave, not only saw how other people killed their mother but also had to join the crowd to participate in this “normal” and ritual-based act (Jackson 6-7). All children in this community could be at the place of Hutchinson’s children. It is important to note that they were taught to perceive this situation as routine and appropriate because they knew this event was annual and necessary. Therefore, it is possible to state that these children learned nothing about the inappropriateness of violence when they were guided by traditions and customary practices.
“The Lottery” by Jackson can be recommended to parents in order to explain them the importance of the parental example and impact in a family. Moreover, it is also possible to assume that the author, intentionally or not, accentuates the significance of teaching the difference between the good and the bad. From this perspective, in addition to other critical themes covered in the short story, Jackson effectively draws the reader’s attention to the idea of role models in society. According to many psychological and behavioral theories, children learn through observing other people’s actions and assessing them as right or wrong.
The message in “The Lottery” accentuates the idea that children in the depicted small town cannot distinguish between moral and immoral activities because of their parents’ specific example and education. One of the key problems, which are discussed in the work, is that violence is perceived as something normal or common in this community (Jackson 1). As a result, in the controversial and provocative reality created by the author, children are encouraged to participate in killing not only other community members but also their parents.
What lesson can these children learn from their participation in the lottery? When these boys become adults, they will act as their own parents because the power of the ritual in their community is stronger than common sense. Violence will be the part of their nature because they witnessed it regularly since childhood, and moreover, they were active participants. It is also important to note that, in her story, Jackson adds a dramatic effect to the discussion of this problem while using a detached tone and describing idyllic surroundings.
As a result, the impact of this short story on the reader becomes intense and significant, and the ending can be viewed as unpredictable and making the audience think about ethics and their values. Referring to the perspective discussed in this paper, the reader can also think about the role of parental education and influence in society.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” Come Along with Me: Classic Short Stories and an Unfinished Novel, edited by Stanley Edgar Hyman, Penguin, 2013, pp. 1-7.