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Themes in the Story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson


The story “The Lottery” is a masterpiece written by Shirley Jackson. It describes the small town where the traditional event named “the lottery” is conducted. The “winner” is condemned to being stoned to death because it has been done for years. This essay will examine the three major themes in this piece of literature, which are: human nature, the influence of traditions on community, and gender roles, as these issues are closely connected and precisely describe people’s attitudes toward vital processes in society.

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The Major Themes

The author tries to reveal the worst sides of people’s behavior, exaggerating circumstances and focusing readers on the two major themes. The first is human nature, which is displayed in a negative light. By showing the cruelty of the event, Shirley points to the violence in all the people’s behavior, even toward each other. She describes an ordinary town, where traditional stoning to death is perceived normally, conducted without any external enforcement, and involves the presence and participation of children, who deliberately collect the “murder weapon.” Therefore, the cruelty, which is initially hidden in ordinary people, is revealed in “The Lottery” through this theme.

The tradition of choosing the victim by the annual lottery is the second central theme of the piece. It complements the first one, as it serves as the additionally shown manifestation of human nature while being the distinct phenomenon whose negative influence on society is emphasized. It is shown that no one can remember the reasons for this event, but the society of the town continues to conduct it, despite the cruelty of taking the “winner’s” life. The black box, used to keep paper clips with names on it inside, is the representation of human’s inability to abandon the old traditions. Although forgetting the reasons and meaning of the event are forgotten, the box is held and utilized for conducting the cruel lottery, despite the talks about its replacement. Through this theme, Shirley emphasizes the absurdness of the blind following the traditions.

The third theme is the family structure and gender roles in society. Shirley reveals the dominant position of males in society by showing that the one who draws the slip of paper is the family’s father. It is also demonstrated that daughters have to participate with their husbands’ families, indicating the social inequity between men and women. This theme points to the issue of a male-dominated social structure and reveals the unfairness of this phenomenon.


The Lottery” is a piece of literature that is written with a concise purpose of revealing the negative features of people’s behavioral patterns. Three major themes are human nature and cruelty, hidden in it, blind following to unreasonable traditions, and male-dominated social structure. Two first themes are revealed through evidence: the absence of reasons to continue conducting the event and the violence of the lottery that the citizens perceive normally. The third one is displayed in the initial rules of the event, which provide males with a dominant position. Together, the mentioned two themes point to the human’s particular imperfectness.

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