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Themes of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” Story

Starting as a rather serene and slow-paced story, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” gradually spirals into a rather frantic pace with a blood-curdling revelation at the end. Apart from an unexpected and frankly horrifying twist, “the Lottery” incorporates believable and relatable characters and a rather peculiar plot. However, its themes are the part that is particularly prominent; being interlaced with each other and evoking further reflections in the reader, these themes take a life of their own, representing one of the core attributes of the novel. Although “The Lottery” is famous for its scapegoat, other ideas baked into its very premises, such as tradition, conformity, and human nature, add to the atmosphere, creating a nuanced narrative.

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In her story, Jackson does not resort to bluntly obvious symbolism as the key means of carrying the story. Instead, she incorporates a range of minor symbols, the significance of which becomes apparent only after considering the ending. For example, a slight hint at the tragic resolution is dropped in the very first couple of paragraphs, when the author describes children stuffing their pockets with stones (). Hinting at the tragedy that is about to unfold, these stones also serve as a metaphor for violence in society, therefore, introducing the specified theme as one of the main concerns (). Remarkably, Jackson describes not adults but children with a pocketful of stones: “Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones” (Jackson). Thus, stones represent the theme of violence that percolates every part of the community and becomes deeply entrenched in every member, including children.

Additionally, the theme of injustice as a broader topic that Jackson explores in her story is incorporated into the plot. Arguably, the problem of injustice is not revealed in the story up until the denouement, when Tessie is stoned to death as the scapegoat selected for the crowd to abuse and, ultimately, murder. However, unlike the victim theme, the problem of injustice leaps off every page of the story. Being represented by the gender inequality, as well as the presence of the law that compels people to kill the lottery winner, the theme of injustice becomes the leitmotif of “The Lottery”: “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her” (Jackson). Therefore, the concept of injustice and the absence of fairness becomes ubiquitous in the story.

Finally, the theme of dehumanization of scapegoats coupled with the absence of empathy is raised in the novel. While it is not stated expressively, the idea of creating a scapegoat and an object for sacrifice out of a human being suggests complete dehumanization of an individual: “‘ All right, folks.’ Mr. Summers said. ‘Let’s finish quickly’” (Jackson). Specifically, by pointing to the grave injustice and the pointlessness of the so-called lottery, Jackson alludes to the problem of how easily people are dehumanized as they are selected as the object of attack. Specifically, the novel points out that dehumanizing leads to an increase in violence.

The theme of gender inequality and gender stereotypes perpetuated in society is also examined in the novel. Remarkably, while the theme of violence is revealed only at the end, the theme of gender stereotypes and rigid roles being entrenched into the novel becomes apparent from the very start of the narration. Specifically, the women portrayed in “The Lottery” are represented as passive and submissive: “Mrs. Hutchinson came hurriedly along the path to the square, her sweater thrown over her shoulders, and slid into place in the back of the crowd” (Jackson). Thus, the story makes it obvious that the described attitude toward women and girls is deeply entrenched in the local community (). In the context of the cruel ritual and the gruesome death of Tessie, the specified stereotypes serve to point to the grave injustice of the s

Finally, the symbol of the scapegoat should be scrutinized closely as a vital part of the narrative. Remarkably, the idea of a scapegoat as the central symbol of the story does not even need to be placed at the forefront of the narrative in “The Lottery”; instead, it is revealed only at the last minute as a shocking twist as Tessie is being stoned to death. The reason for concealing the central symbol of the story for the dramatic purpose is quite understandable; however, clever hints placed throughout the story to indicate the rising tension and point to the approaching resolution are what make “the Lottery” especially captivating.

Despite having been placed at the forefront of the story, the theme of a scapegoat represents only a fraction of the thematic richness of “the Lotter,” which also ponders the notions of human nature, the crushing power of tradition, and the trap of conformity. As a result, the novel gains additional meanings, becoming an intricate and thought-provoking story. Thus, the message that it conveys becomes all the more poignant and relatable, leaving a profound impact on the reader and encouraging the audience to participate in the dialogue concerning the possibility of the dystopian future becoming a reality.

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Work Cited

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The New Yorker, 1948, Web.

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