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The Unfair Tradition

By EricaVia Oct 22, 2014 1227 Words

Erica Via
Rhiannon Flannery
COM 131 – Composition and Literature
30 September 2014
Essay A – Short Story Analysis
The Unfair Tradition
The lottery, a chance to win, usually money, but that is not the case in Shirley Jackson’s legendary short story “The Lottery.” Winning the lottery in this case presents a conundrum of sorts. The story does not present a big build, a huge climax, an epiphany, or a conclusion. Instead Jackson leaves us astonished in the end with the only climactic event happening just as she stops writing. It is not until that moment where we can not only see the greater theme in which we realize the horrors that can lay in conformity but it is also then in which we realize that the entire story was full of words, things and people that all held some form of symbolism. What these symbols represent is left open for interpretation, however no matter what these things may symbolize we are still left wondering what it all really means. “And then they were upon her” (421), it is with those words and in that moment in which the entire story turns from just words into words with meaning. Suddenly we are riddled with questions as to what little things may have symbolized, things such as the stool, the black box, even the pile of stones. Perhaps they foreshadowed the ending the entire time but we were not meant to know so until that ending statement. “The Lottery” takes place in a small village of about 300 townspeople. The story starts off by explaining the early summer morning gathering of the villagers. They are talking in groups, woman are gossiping, and children are playing. The villagers are discussing things as if it as an ordinary day with nothing exceptional about to take place. There is a black box sat on a stool, the villagers are then to take turns pulling out pieces of papers from the box, men, then women, next children. Whichever family has a black circle on their piece of paper then draws again just within that family. Up to this point everyone is just following suit, until Tessie begins to call out the unfairness of this tradition after it is her family that “wins” the lottery. This is the first glimpse where a realization is reached that there indeed must be something to win that really isn’t something you would want to win. The story then ends with Tessie being the individual who has the final piece of paper with the black dot, she continues to yell out about the unfairness of it all but is quickly quieted by the stones her friends and family cast upon her. The actual lottery itself is the largest symbols of all, one we could not have foreseen until the ending. It symbolizes conformity and the dark side of tradition. We are all more apt to follow the crowd or participate in something because everyone else is, and even continue on with something that may be wrong just because it is the way it is supposed to be. The small village in “The Lottery” carried on this heinous tradition simply because “there’s always been a lottery” (419). As Mrs. Hutchinson arrived late that summer “…morning of June 27th” (416) she claimed she “clean forgot what day it was” (417), and even shared a little laugh about it with Mrs. Delacroix, there were even jokes about not leaving dishes in the sink. Clearly it was a morning like every other, at least to this town and these people. They carried on as if it were any ordinary day. Fast forward to then end, after we realize that Tessie was already singled out at the beginning, we now realize she was singled out for a reason. Tessie didn’t even seem to care much what day it was as it was a normal part of life to her, or at least she didn’t care until she was the “winner.” In only the fourth paragraph of this short story we are given our first premonition that maybe things are not the way we are assuming them to be. Of course reading it the first time there is not much thought given to the reaction of the towns people to the black box and the three legged stool. Once again it is not until that last few sentences when it all clicks, and we see greater meaning in the things we read. As the stool and black box were brought out to conduct the lottery, there is hesitation to help and the people seem to want to stay at a distance from it. It is as if this box were a rabid dog, a beast or even the thing that held their demise. We know that this box was not the original, the original was too old and needed replaced, just as this box too is deteriorating. The box was painted black, why black? Could it have not been yellow, or purple with blue dots? Why black? Is it because we were to look at this box and see it for what it was, for a horrid death holding box of possible demise? “The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly” (417), just as the tradition of the lottery. Other towns had begun to give it up which should have made the towns people at least wonder why or give thought to why they really continue such an outdated awful tradition. “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (419). Are they really all so brainwashed in this blind tradition that
they believe there would not be corn if there were not a murder? In the beginning of “The Lottery” as everyone began to gather together for the mornings festivities Jackson described the boys as “selecting the smoothest and roundest stone,” some of them filling their pockets and others making a large pile. This seems like normal play for young boys, playing with dirt and rocks, making piles, perhaps gathering a few to skip rocks in the lake, creek, or even a pond. When it is realized what the pile of stones is actually intended for there is a feeling of shock, and sadness for these boys. It is just a normal average thing for these boys to gather stones knowing that they are going to murder an innocent person with them. The fact that “everyone stood together, away from the pile of stones” (416), spoke volumes that we could not hear or foresee in the moment. This was not just normal boys playing, this was not a normal day, this was not a normal town and regardless of them all going along with this tradition, we can look back at these little details and realize that they really were not all that okay and relaxed about it at all. One has to wonder what ran through Tessie’s mind the moment she saw someone hand her own child a stone in which to aid in her demise. No matter what the meaning of these items Tessie spoke the truth in the end, “it isn’t fair, it isn’t right” (421). Work Cited

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Compact 8th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2013. 416-421. Print

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