The Lottery

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a terribly saddening story about a village that is so stuck in its traditions that it fails to evolve and change them, even if it would mean preserving justice and life. Every year, an innocent member of the society selects their fate at random, choosing a slip of paper from a tattered box to determine who will be stoned to death by the rest of the village. There are many things wrong with the story that cause the reader to question why the village would continue such an awful custom. Firstly, the village doesn’t seem to welcome logic, neither in terms of the practice itself nor in terms of the continuation of the practice. If the village believed in a god that needed human sacrifices, as cruel as it would be, at least this practice makes some sort of cohesive sense if it’s a genuine belief. But this lottery seems to have no purpose other than the fact that it’s tradition. At one point, the eldest member of the village makes a reference to having enough food because of the lottery. However, when a younger member explains that “some places [had] already quit lotteries” and that they were doing just fine, the comment is brushed of with disdain (Jackson 250). Obviously there was proof that the lottery was not necessary for their survival, and yet no one seemed interested in changing the custom. Apparently, nearly all humans hold fast to their beliefs and myths despite logical proof that they have erred. Tuan uses explorers searching for mythical locations such as paradise as an example. Even “repeated failure to locate [the mythical places] did not discourage explorers from making further efforts [to find them]” (Tuan 85). When it comes to myths and beliefs, more often than not logic is rejected in favor of maintaining the comfort that comes with believing one knows the infallible truth. Another thing that bothered me about the village was that their belief in maintaining tradition was very inconsistent. They no longer bother listening to the instructions, and “much of the [original] ritual had been forgotten or discard” (Jackson 248). There were very obviously many aspects of the tradition that had change. Why, then, were they so opposed to changing their tradition of murdering an innocent person? If they wanted to maintain culture, they could have held a symbolic lottery to demonstrate the customs of the past, but refrained from killing anyone to show how the culture has evolved. The hypocrisy is unbearable.

The village is also a perfect example of the human tendency to seek routine and maintain their beliefs. Year after year, the village participates in this horrendous tradition without giving their actions any thought. This is extremely common for those who find comfort in routine, especially with those traditions with which they’ve been raised since childhood. Tuan explains that “to be livable, nature and society must show order,” and to this society, order meant maintaining this yearly ritual (Tuan 88). He goes on to explain that “to discard the idea… would have threatened a whole way of looking at the world” (Tuan 86). This is certainly understandable and can be observed frequently in people’s lives. Imagine a child’s reaction when discovering that what they had believed for so long to be the Tooth Fairy was in actuality their parents coming in the middle of the night to replace their teeth with coins. Their world is shattered, and I imagine for many in this village, the realization that their beloved tradition held absolutely no purpose would have been devastating; many would refuse to believe that their annual heartless murder was for no reason at all.

Though it is rare, it is possible to let go of superstitions upon realization that they are flawed or illogical. Tuan brings in the case of the Puluwatans: “as a pragmatic people, [they] readily abandon rituals and taboos when these are shown to lack power” (Tuan 87). Many in history have let go of false beliefs, from the notion that the solar system revolves around the Earth, to the idea that tossing alleged witches into the river to drown was an appropriate response to suspicion. But in this village, the value of tradition and culture overrides that of fairness, mercy, logic, and the preservation of life.

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Published in: on March 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm Comments (0)


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