The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson
Looking at the theme of tradition in this story, discuss how Jackson explores this theme through the use of various literary techniques.
A short story about a tradition of Lottery, where the “winner” is going to be stoned every year. Shirley Jackson using various literary techniques to show that people blindly participate in barbaric and pointless traditions. She is using symbolism, imagery, irony and foreshadowing to develop the story and explore the theme.
Symbolism is very strong element of the story. The names of the characters, the black box and the lottery itself are carrying a symbolic meaning.
The name of Mr. Summers reflecting to the season and the presence of Mr. Graves foreshadowing the climax of the story. Their names giving clues about the end of the lottery drawing, where someone will die at summertime. Also Mrs. Graves was front of the crowd when they start throwing stones to Mrs. Hutchinson, so she is literally putting her to the grave.
Old Man Warner represents the elderly generation. As one he incarnates tradition and the desire to preserve and not change it. When Mrs. Adams mentions other villages quit lotteries he snorts and comments: “Pack of crazy fools. Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work anymore, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery.” His words regarding the younger generations are also symbolic. He is calling them “fools”, because they want to give up the lottery. It shows the contrast between modern and old, and reflects on progress contra tradition. At the climax of the story Warner urges everyone: “Come on, come on, everyone.” That is why, as long as he is present, there will be no social progress, and the status quo will not change. And because they indoctrinating the children into this tradition, there will be always an “Old Man” who holding back to the old custom.
The black box symbolise tradition and the villagers’ attitude towards to it. The shabby old box, splintered and faded. Just like the tradition of the lottery, it’s pointless, barbaric and cruel. The villagers loyal and respect to both, not willing to get a new box or give up the lottery.– “Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box.” And “every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything’s being done.”
The lottery symbolising the notion of tradition, custom or practice, that is blindly followed and practiced by a community, regardless how inhuman, cruel and barbaric. In the story, lottery is an integral part of the village, they even have a saying about it – “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”. The tradition is an every year event, which is respected and followed by everyone. The outcome of the lottery is the villagers collectively murder the “winner”. Regardless the cruel result of the ritual, the lottery continues, because “there’s always been a lottery”. This shows how traditions affecting peoples’ life, in this case a very barbaric way. Even nowadays, traditions such as male circumcision or female genital mutilation still affecting millions.
Shirley Jackson using imagery at the beginning. “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.” This is contrasting to the bitter end of the story, where Tessie is stoned to death.
When the Hutchinson family is chosen, the description of Bill – “his face is red and his feet overlarge, near knocked the box over as he got the paper out” – creates awkwardness and tension. At this point the reader might start to wonder why everybody collected the stones at the beginning of the story.
Irony also a key element of the story. The title, the lunch and also the weather shows it. Winning the lottery means, wining lots of money. Most of the times. As the story progress, the reader slowly realises, it is not about money, but death. The winner of the event is going to be stoned by his/her family and friends. The misleading title is able to catch the reader’s attention, but also creating a contrast between the reader’s expectation and the outcome.
The story taking place at “the morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.” On a perfect day like this, the reader does not expect anything like the outcome of the story. The villagers lynch Mrs. Hutchinson on beautiful summer day.
In the first paragraph the writer shows us the villagers relaxed and calm about the outcome of the lottery. – “the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.” Stoning someone from the village is not disturbing the peoples’ daily activities. The lottery is part of their life. Even to finish the event in time, so they can have lunch, they attempt to accelerate the stoning. – “Let’s finish quickly, Come on, Hurry Up.”
Shirley Jackson foreshadowing the cruel outcome of the lottery, with the stones. The young boys stuffing their pockets and piling stones seems like harmless child play, until the writer reveals their true purpose at the climax of the story.
The writer used different literature techniques to show that people blindly follow traditions and rituals - without questioning it, regardless how damaging and cruel to the society. She used this short story to underline the dark side of traditions. Also to show the importance of critical thinking regarding outdated, cruel traditions, and the responsibility of younger generations to change the status quo.