“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson | Analysis

1647 words (7 pages) Essay in Literature

23/09/19 Literature Reference this

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 Tradition Turns To Violence

In Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” she uses imagery, irony, symbolism, and allegory to reveal her perspective on the themes of tradition and violence.  

“The Lottery” uses the stack of rocks to symbolize the tradition and the ways of the town. The rocks were the way of killing the person that was selected by that black box and the black markings. There is no reason why the villagers should be loyal to the black box yet disloyal to other relics and traditions, just as there is no logical reason why the villagers should continue holding the lottery at all. The stones were a symbol because they allowed everyone to participate in the stoning freely in the ritual. Everyone from the youngest to old man warner were involved in the murder of Tessie, but the horror of it all was the fact that everyone stood by and did nothing. The stones could also be called symbols because you can compare them to history when stoning was used as the way of punishment of the guilty; in the end killing them during a human sacrifice or ritual. The stoning also ties into some religions with the way of the religious community chose to punish people who participated in disbelief of the group. 

The tittle in its own way shows symbolism, tradition, and gives off a play on words because of the winnings in the end. All the expectation of ‘’the lottery’’ were all the same at the beginning of the story, but once you read the second paragraph red flags start to arise as the pile of stones are being made. Traditions comes into play once the papers are pulled from the “black box”. The title itself portrays the “The Lottery” as if things are normal and nothing drastic is about but as one is looking closer to the fine details of the story one can see the small things that tell you otherwise. A normal lottery would cause for celebration and excitement, but no one wanted to win this lottery. The atmosphere was quite scarce and stiff in the moment of the lottery. The lottery was passed down from one generation to the next that is accepted with no questions asked amongst the villagers. It’s a tradition or ritual that has not been able to be questionable based upon the strong believe that has been washed into their brains that they “wouldn’t be right” if it didn’t happen. According to Shirley Jackon’s “The Lottery,” ”’They do say,’ Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, ‘that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery.’” Then old man warner goes on to make fun of the disbelief of getting rid of the lottery: saying “Old Man Warner snorted. “Pack of crazy fools,” he said. ‘There’s always been a lottery,”

According to David Michelson’s “Violence in “The Lottery” it states: It is curious that Old Man Warner admonishes those who would give up “The Lottery ” and Tessie becomes increasingly adamant that the lottery is not fair. Significantly, we are not told why some villages want to give up the lottery ritual, and we struggle to determine just why someone would not want to win a lottery, which usually results in something good. The possibility of violence at this point in the story is remote if not incredible; but, drawn this far into the tale, we have been at least initially primed for a modestly incongruous ending. 

In the next part of the story irony was displayed as an underlying theme used throughout the entire story. Irony is displayed in the story at the beginning with the setting starting to lay out; the story goes on to say “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day…” but it ends with the brutal and savage death of a house wife. How ironic, right? The two people who internally run the town, Mr. Graves and Mr. Summers both have names that are ironic to the story and the actions that are being taken, for instance the death of Tessie and the postmasters name, Mr. Graves name both go hand in hand. Mr. Summers name goes hand and hand with the time of year and the setting that the scene takes place.  

The theme of allegory was displayed all throughout the story line of the lottery. “The Lottery” uses many different types of ideas to transmit Jackson’s message of tradition, human intinction and no chance of change. According to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” ‘”Well, now.” Mr. Summers said soberly, “guess we better get started, get this over with, so’s we can go back to work. ” (10) This quotes speaks upon the fact this society was a hard-working town; so hard working that the murder of one of their own must be done on a time table. According to Don D’Ammassa’s article titled “The Lottery” states that, “One element is the tendency to be trapped by tradition. No one remembers the real purpose of the lottery, but it is still conducted every year, and no one would think of suggesting that it be discontinued. Similarly, the story is a clear indictment of the pressures of conformity. Not only do the townspeople refuse to question the rightness of the ceremony, they immediately redefine the winner/loser as an outsider, no longer under the community’s protection.” Things in the lottery were done the way that they were always, even if there was no rhyme or reason to it. Certain people seem to remember why traditions are made and some people know where they were created but, in this town, no one knows the where and the why behind it; they kind of just go with the flow.  

Some Critics may classify change in society, and society vs individual as being the main topic or talking point of the short story “the lottery.” Some people may see this as being the main topic of the short story because of the way the characters change up from being a town and a group to turning on Tessie and in the end killing her. According to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” states: “The people separated good-humoredly to let her through: two or three people said. in voices just loud enough to be heard across the crowd, “Here comes your, Missus, Hutchinson,” Another quote from Shirly Jackson’s states: “……and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson’s arrival.” This quote represents the friendly atmosphere to Mrs. Hutchinson from the town. The story continues to the picking of the black box and the Hutchinson family being chosen for the lottery and from this point on we see the atmosphere change once the Hutchinson family is picked. Shirley Jackson’s the lottery states that: People began to look around to see the Hutchinson’s. Bill Hutchinson was standing quiet, staring down at the paper in his hand. Suddenly. Tessie Hutchinson shouted to Mr. Summers. “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair!” In this quote it shows the town turn on the family and start to cast them out; once Tessie is the one to be stoned the atmosphere changes again but for the worst. According to David Michelson’s “Individual and Society In “The Lottery” states that:  Our sympathy for Tessie as the victim is furthered by the fact that she is the only character who is individualized by the author. Tessie shows up late to the ritual, setting herself apart physically from her society and drawing our attention to her, and then jokes with the crowd about leaving dishes in the sink, which as a moment of light comedy, allows greater identification with her than with any other character. The fact that Tessie’s final words are, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right!” serves to underscore her role as an individual victim of her society. This quote shows behind the scene thoughts of a writer that sees the short story in a different light and sees Tessie as victim.  

In conclusion, because of Shirley Jackson’s innovative use of basic literary elements such as imagery, irony, symbolism, and allegory and in terms of using those she sheds light on the problems of tradition and violence in the short story. Through her strong choice of words, she was able to create the perfect picture of the lives and tribal like tradition of the village.  

Work Cited

  • D’Ammassa, Don. “‘The Lottery.’” Encyclopedia of Adventure Fiction, Second Edition, Facts On File, 2014. Bloom’s Literature, online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=&itemid=&articleId=27131. Accessed 25 Feb. 2019.
  • Michelson, David. “Individual and Society in ‘The Lottery.’” Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature, 3-Volume Set, Facts On File, 2010. Bloom’s Literature, online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=&itemid=&articleId=39294. Accessed 25 Feb. 2019.
  • Michelson, David. “Violence in ‘The Lottery.’” Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature, 3-Volume Set, Facts On File, 2010. Bloom’s Literature, online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=&itemid=&articleId=39296. Accessed 25 Feb. 2019.

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