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Viciousness in “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

Set in a village background, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” illustrates the height of human potential to execute violence, although, it is depicted as ritual practices, tradition, and community order. The story reflects the society of the ancient time, but it has remained relevant even to today’s society. Through the use of characters and literary language, Jackson is successful in depicting the meaningless violence in the most appealing manner. This paper discusses viciousness as an element of mob psychology as presented by Jackson through traditional practices and social order.

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Violence remained constant among the villagers, which can be observed in the following statement “Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones” (Jackson, 1948, p. 46). The Lottery was written at the time when there were fascism and coercion. People continued to oppress others because they found their fathers propagating subjugation. The adverse socio-economic effects of the Second World War were still fresh at the time Jackson wrote the story and there were tensions among nations.

The senseless inhumanity and violence executed by people are similar to the meaningless ritual. For example, the use or crude weapons such as stones is confirmed through the statement “A stone hit her on the side of the head” (Jackson, 1948, p. 56). The author cleverly uses this statement to illustrate one of the starkest moments of violence, although without mentioning the participants in any way. Moreover, children were also introduced to violence by witnessing and participating in the tradition, “The children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles” (Jackson, 1948, p. 34). The nations are ready to fight at the slightest provocation without questioning the motivation for the war. Jackson paints a society is dedicated to traditions of the past without reasoning or justification, being subjected to the influence of mob psychology.

Traditions and cultural practices were viewed as mandatory without consideration for the implications to individual lives. Although other towns have abandoned the exercise, the metropolis Jackson presents still carries on with it. The lottery was exercised to gain God’s favor to improve crop production. However, it was performed for no reason making it barbaric and senseless. Jackson questions the blind adherence to cultural traditions with consequential outcoms such as bringing suffering to humanity. This is a reflection of the society at that time and to date. People execute violence as a community because they believe in culture and traditions without questioning its implications. It can be argued that the exercises seemed barbaric and impractical to the readers.

Those that initiate changes are seen as less intelligent and become social outcasts. It can be witnessed through the statement as follows “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her” (Jackson, 1948, p. 43). Even before she begs not to be stoned, there is evidence of people being ready to fight (Nugraha, & Mahdi, 2020). This can be linked to America’s capital punishment where children were sentenced to death and executed, the government of the time portraying it to the public it as justice, and also the weapons that countries buy in readiness for war.

The story is a denouncement of violence and the killing of people in wars. The story was written immediately after World War II, but Ms. Jackson does not indicate the period. Additionally, it has made the story universally generalizable, a way of showing that violence can occur any day, anywhere (Robinson, 2019). The killing of Tessie exposes the atrocities caused by the World War. Innocent people were killed with the government and societies supporting it as a norm.

To conclude, although Jackson mimics an environment in the post-World War II era, her story depicts the reality in many conflict-bound societies. This tale potentially highlights human beings’ capacity to participate in violence in the pretense of adhering to culture and traditions. Some of the events unfolding in this short chronicle indicate how some traditions cause unintended harm upon individuals without their consent. The theme of violence remains at the core of Jackson’s presentations.

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Jackson, S. (1948). The lottery. The New Yorker. Web.

Nugraha, I. S., & Mahdi, S. (2020). Transitivity system on building character of Mr. summers in the lottery by Shirley Jackson. Celtic: A Journal of Culture, English Language Teaching, Literature and Linguistics, 7(1), 35-43. Web.

Robinson, M. (2019). Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Holocaust Literature. Humanities, 8(1), 35. Web.

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