How The Lottery by Shirley Jackson applies to equality and inclusion in modern times.
The Lottery is one of the most iconic pieces written by Shirley Jackson. It's a work that, at first glance, seems to be about an annual village lottery and what happens when someone wins it all. The story was published in 1948 but still rings true today as society continues on with its refusal to change from tradition or acknowledge new ideas for fear of being different from everyone else around them. The novel tells the tale of villagers who gather each year for their yearly lottery drawing which determines who from the village will die. When Tessie Hutchinson ends up we are given insight into just how cruel these people can truly be towards outsiders;
A breakdown of the story
The lottery is held in a town square used for village functions and it is a welcoming environment (Jackson, para. 2). The village prospers and provides onlookers a glimpse at what seems like normal family values. This positive atmosphere is in stark contrast with the introduction of the black box.
Not only does the black box symbolize darkness, death, and evil, but is a key illustration of the true nature of this town. The box holds the secret darkness of the rituals conducted for centuries. Each family details their lineage and the patriarch of the clan draws out blank pages. One of which holds a paper with a black spot. This black spot is the death of one villager. “The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now..had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born” (Jackson para. 4). The leader of the ceremony wishes to upgrade the box which is met with resistance from the village. The black box is a metaphor for the darkness in the town and its refusal to disregard outdated practices and evolve. The town is stuck in the metaphorical dark ages. The image of the box relies heavily on the actions of the two characters. Specifically, Mr. Summers, the arbitrator of the ceremony, the oldest man in the town that has survived seventy lotteries unscathed, and the victim Tessie Hutchinson.
Mr. Summers is a forward-thinking man that is responsible for replacing the black box. This character represents the desire to disregard the traditions of their forefathers and stop this barbaric act. Others in the village may have doubts, but continue to blindly obey the rules of the ceremony (Shields, 413). Old Man Warner is the oldest member of the town and strongly believes evolving would result in the town’s devastation. This superstitious pattern prevents the townspeople's evolution. According to Patrick J. Shields, The Lottery “dramatize[s] graphically the ‘pointless violence’ in people's lives, to reveal the general inhumanity to man”(412).
Mr. Summers places the black spot in the box and the power of selection starts based on family heritage. The men draw the first ballot from a box and it is the responsibility of the head of household to accept the consequences (Whitter, 354). Mr. Summers symbolizes the push for future advancements in the town and Old Man Warner represents the accepted blind obedience and stagnation in the present.
Tessie Hutchinson is the heart of the town. Hutchinson arrives late and the entire crowd takes notice. As Tessie pushes through the townsfolk to reach Mr. Hutchinson certain people loudly exclaim “here comes you Missus, Hutchinson, Bill she made it after all” (Jackson, para. 9). As the ritual continues, the Hutchison family is chosen for the black box selection. When Tessie draws the black spot the crowd is emotionless. While Tessie expresses the unfairness of the situation, the villagers begin to hand out rocks for the slaughter. Those ready to kill include the Hutchinson children and head of household.
The stoning of Tessie is a dramatic representation of the primitive evil of the human being in society. At the same time, Tessie encapsulates the final piece of morality left within the constituents. Fuyu Chen states that Tessie’s “tragedy at the same time is a representative of the tragedies of those people chosen as the sacrifice in the past [to propel society into the future]” (1026).
Why does this story matter?
The Lottery is a cautionary tale of the dangers of stagnation and apathy. Change does not only include advancing technology or ideals. Humanity must avoid blind obedience in the face of morally deplorable actions. If the townspeople protected Tessie, the ending of the story would be vastly different. It is dangerous to resist new ideas and remain a bystander in the wake of humanity's evolution. In that rule, there is violence, stagnation, and disregard for human life.
Tessie is the voice that was silenced when she spoke up about the inequality. Mr. Summers refused to be an ally and Old Man Warner is society's refusal to accept any change that is vital to human life. Resistance to change prevents equal treatment and inclusion of neurodiversity in all aspects of life. When you silence the voices seeking equality you are no better than Old Man Warner. You are refusing to listen to reason and accept differences. At the same time, you may acknowledge the need for change, for inclusion, and for discrimination against marginalized communities to end. However, if you remain silent you are idle with apathy like Mr. Summers. The worst of all are the bystanders that mindlessly allowed Tessie to be stone to death. When you see injustice and do nothing, you might as well be welding the stones.
Everyone must choose which character in this story they emnboidment. The question that remains is who you will choose to be.
Biography. “Shirley Jackson.” Biography, 7 Apr. 2021, www.biography.com/writer/shirley-jackson.
Bonikowski, Wyatt. "'Only one antagonist': the demon lover and the feminine experience in the work of Shirley Jackson." Gothic Studies, vol. 15, no. 2, 2013, p. 66+
Fuyu Chen. “A Representative and a Scapegoat: Analysis of Tessie Hutchinson in The Lottery.” Theory & Practice in Language Studies, vol. 2, no. 5, May 2012, pp. 1022–1026. EBSCOhost, doi:10.4304/tpls.2.5.1022-1026.
Hattenhauer, Darryl. “Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.” Rocky Mountain Review, vol. 71, no. 1, Mar. 2017, p. 64.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. 1948. http://sites.middlebury.edu/individualandthesociety/files/2019/09/jackson_lottery.pdf
Shields, Patrick J. “Arbitrary Condemnation and Sanctioned Violence in Shirley Jackson’s ‘the Lottery.’” Contemporary Justice Review, vol. 7, no. 4, Dec. 2004, pp. 411–419. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/1028258042000305884.
Whittier, Gayle. “‘The Lottery’ as Misogynist Parable.” Women’s Studies, vol. 18, no. 4, Jan. 1991, p. 353. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00497878.1991.9978842.
Lit 375 Assignment UOPX Literary Analysis 2021 by Tas K.