“Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.”
- Jiddu Krishnamurti
Every year millions of people line up at gas stations and convenience stores with the ultimate desire to be the next winner of the lottery. The lottery is a tradition in our country, a tradition that has led to thousands of winners who are deemed “the lucky ones.” However, is following tradition always a good thing? Are the winners of this desirable lottery always so lucky? Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” employs a detached, unique tone and utilizes ambiguous symbolism to reveal the inhumanity of mindlessly following societal tradition.
“The Lottery” commences on the morning of June 27th, which “was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full summer day” (Jackson par. 1). In this town “there’s always been a lottery”; every year the townspeople gather in the town square in order to conduct their traditional act of the lottery (Jackson par. 30). In the meantime, Jackson goes on to describe the intricate setting of “flowers blossoming profusely and the richly green grass” (Jackson par.2). She describes the young children participating in “boisterous play” and the mothers gathering together to “exchange bits of gossip”(Jackson par.2). Mr. Summers, “a round-faced, jovial man,” is the conductor of the lottery; however, people felt sorry for him because he has “no children and his wife was a scold” (Jackson par. 4). Once he declares the lottery open, Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson comes hurriedly to the square proclaiming that she “clean forgot what day it was” (Jackson par. 8). After Mr. Summers calls every head of the household up to retrieve a paper, the town realizes it is the Hutchinson’s who have been selected. Tessie immediately starts protesting, saying, “it wasn’t fair” (Jackson par. 45). Tessie then draws the final lottery paper; consequently, she was stoned to death. The tone of Jackson’s perturbing story, or “whatever leads us to infer the authors attitude,” is neutral and misleading, with an astonishing ending that is unexpected to the reader (Kennedy and Gioia 149).
The surrealism of this annual tradition is represented through Jackson's detached, unique tone. Her use of amiable language among the townspeople and the exemplification of the lottery as an event similar to “the square dances, the teenage club, and the Halloween program” illustrate the lottery as a hospitable, jubilant event. Jackson describes the communal ambience of the townspeople prior to the drawing: “The men began to gather, speaking of planting, rain, tractors, and taxes” (Jackson par. 3). The essence of this statement illustrates a nonchalant, ordinary tone, which exhibits fearlessness and apathy of the upcoming events. The lottery is orchestrated in a precise manner, and with excessive suspense by the townspeople; the reader is expecting the victor to be the recipient of a glorious award. However, it is not until the closing of this story when the reader apprehends the true undeniable fate of the winner.
Kennedy and Gioia explain, “objects that seem insignificant in themselves can take on a symbolic importance” (Kennedy and Gioia 224). The essence of their writing turns to be especially true in Jackson’s “The Lottery”, for it is the minor items that end up being the most significant symbols in this story. Jackson constructs this story with a multitude of ambiguous symbolism. One example of this is the black box, which is a paramount symbol of the townspeople’s ultimate parallel with tradition. Jackson explicitly describes the townspeople’s reaction when talking about the black box; he states, "No one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box" (Jackson par. 5). The essence of Jacksons writing here demonstrates the townspeople’s ultimate desire to always follow tradition regardless of anything. They believe that the present “box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it” and that’s what essentially keeps them connected to tradition. Furthermore, the title of this equivocal story is also simultaneously symbolic. For instance, society today associates the word “lottery” to be a good thing, representing a pathway that can lead to triumph. However, the lottery in this story has a far more treacherous meaning. The lottery is an ultimate reflection of the village life: deceptively innocuous, yet wildly malign.
In conclusion, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” employs the inhumanity of society and demonstrates the length mankind will go to never stray from tradition. What is particularly intriguing about tradition in “The Lottery” is that it seems to be perpetual; the townspeople cant pinpoint the beginning and they cant predict the ending. However, its apparent absence of history is what makes tradition so compelling; the people can’t envisage going against it. Through Jackson’s unique tone and ambiguous symbolism, we begin to distinguish the inhumanity of mindlessly following societal tradition.