Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and Tradition

Topics: Short story, Shirley Jackson, The Lottery Pages: 5 (1877 words) Published: April 5, 2014

Introduction to Literature (ENG 112)
Phillip Warren
Averett University
30 March 2014
Professor Buksar, MA

It is very easy to understand why Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” caused controversy at the time it was first published in 1948; which was shortly after World War II. The story may have been seen as an attempt to look at traditions that have become questionable. In “The Lottery” Jackson attempts to compare real world traditions that are no longer relevant, with those of the story by displaying what happens when traditions goes without question, when the reason or history is not known, and when there is resistance to change. Who stops or changes a male dominated society the oppresses women and children? At the beginning of the story, Jackson created an environment of irony. She described a village where it was summertime, the flowers were blooming, and the grass was described to be richly green. It was a setting that would be great for summer activities such as picnics or swimming. However, the villagers were preparing for something else: to stone the unfortunate person whose name would be drawn from the box fill with all the villagers’ names. Jackson described the activity as one traditionally done and called “the lottery.” All the villagers participated in the lottery. The box where the names were pulled from has been used for such a long time; it is even older than the oldest person in the village, Old Man Warner. A reader might begin to see how tradition has existed for so long that nobody even has questioned it. Everybody, including the young children, happily prepare for it. More than likely, a reader would recognize that the stones the young boys were gathering at the start of the story are to be used to stone the person whose name is selected, as tradition dictates. The way the villagers act is actually unsettling considering what they are about to do. The reader may begin to question why and how traditions like this may exist that bring upon suffering and even death, and why and how is it allowed. A modern day fictional story that is perhaps, more relatable in the present is Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.” This tale by Collins has the same situation where a tradition is annually held to celebrate a historical event. It has a game where children whose names are drawn from a lottery fight against each other for survival, which includes killing one another until only one survives. Jackson’s short story is similar to Collins’, yet it does not have something that makes Collins’ story a little more understanding to readers; a reason for and a history of the tradition. Jackson does not do this; there is no understanding available to the reader as to how or why this tradition is necessary. In Collins’ books, she explains the history of the tradition and why it is seen as necessary; to suppress any further uprisings from people of the other districts. Maybe Jackson did not feel the need to explain the history or why the tradition began, but she does present the oldest character in the book, Old Man Warner, making the statement that, “There’s always been a lottery” (Jackson, 2007). Later in the story, it’s mentioned that other villages quit the tradition and Old Man Warner said, “Nothing but trouble in that.” So it’s possible that while there are those who saw that the tradition as no longer valid, whereas the characters in this particular story have not made such a decision yet. Although they clearly no longer remember or can justify the existence of “The Lottery.” Jackson may have used Old Man Warner’s character to represent the older generations that have a hard time adapting to changes. When the thought of quitting the tradition was mentioned by Mr. Adams, Old Man Warner’s response was, “Pack of crazy fools. Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll want to go back to living in caves, nobody work...

Cited: Jackson, S. (2007). The Lottery. In E. McMahan, Literature and the Writing Process (9th ed., pp. 137 - 142). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, USA: Prentice.
UNICEF. (2013, July). Female genital mutilation/cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change. Retrieved March 29, 2014, from UNICEF:
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