Horror of a Time Honored Tradition, “The Lottery”

Literature 225


August 3, 2004

In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" the different mannerisms in the story all foretell the story's dark undertone. Many readers find this story both shocking and disturbing. There comes to mind two different attitudes expressed in this story: first, how society can be bound by barbaric traditions and second, how human nature tends to use a scapegoat when faced with strife or turmoil.

Throughout history people around the world have participated in many traditions and events which may seem cruel but because of it being a tradition, it is done without question. In this small town there is a fear that if this tradition is not carried out then the corn crops would not produce. Old man Warner said precisely, “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” The irony in this ritual is that the townspeople know it is inhumane yet fail to defy it for fear of going against society and becoming an outcast and possibly being stoned to death.

The only one that voiced her opinion was Tessie who in the beginning did not seem to even take the lottery seriously. She comes rushing to the square because she "clean forgot what day it was". When not in danger she was gossiping with the other ladies and even encouraged her husband to go and pick a piece of paper. When she wins the lottery; she pleads for another chance and screams for mercy. The villagers are aware of her rebellious attitude and they are apprehensive that she may be a possible cause for their crops not to be plentiful. "It isn’t fair, it isn’t right," Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her. When forced with the possibility of death, human nature in all its complexity, comes down to one instinctive urge, that of survival.

Throughout the story, there are the dark undertones that something sinister is going to happen. The townspeople are nonchalant, happy and gossiping. Once the black box is brought out the attitude changes and the villagers become subdued. Once all is done, the winner, Tessie, tries to make excuses and makes a last ditch effort to have someone else put in her position.

I believe this story portrays how our society and others can be so superstitious as to think a tradition will aid in what is going on in their life even if the tradition is harmful like that of stoning someone to death. People will go along with a tradition and become complacent, even forget the reason for the tradition yet if it affects them negatively, then they will indeed attempt to shift the blame to a scapegoat to save them. This is “traditional” human behavior.


Barnet, S., Berman, M, Burto, W., Cain, W., & Stubbs, M. (eds.). (2003). Literature for composition: Essays, fiction, poetry, and drama (6th
ed.). NewYork: Addison Wesley