The Unfairness and Cruelty of Fate in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery
“It’s crazy how we never see some things coming. One day our only views are the luminous day, but we are never quite aware of the smoldering fog that approaches us. And before we ever know it, the daylight we once saw quickly dissipates into dark dark dawn until we are left with nothing but uncertainty. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is a timeless short story that embodies not only the issues in society today but the universal feeling of uncertainty and the fear of the unknown. In the story, it starts off with a clear, bright setting, children are playing in joy and laughter, summer is in the air, and the whole town has gathered to find rocks and stones. Mr. Summers, the town activity organizer sets up a black wooden box that contains the names of all the families in the town. Families gather in front of Mr. Summers and the black box and begin to draw names. Finally, the drawings are narrowed down to only one family, the Hutchinson family. Every member of the family draws a paper out of the box and shock ensues after Tessie or Mrs. Hutchinson draws the only paper with a black dot on it. By now it is understood what the purpose for the gathering of the rocks is and what the lottery really does. The story closes to a pitch black end where the whole town including Tessie’s family members throw the rocks they gathered on Tessie until eventually her life comes to an end. Ultimately the theme in this story is to expect the unexpected. Another possible theme is people will follow traditions as a norm no matter how dark or harmful it is.
The characters that show the theme include Mrs.Hutchinson. In the beginning of the story she puts out a calm almost carefree aura. She even lets out a few humorous comments. The story states “ Mrs. Hutchinson reached her husband, and Mr. Summers, who had been waiting, said cheerfully, “Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie.“ Mrs. Hutchinson said, grinning, “Wouldn’t have me leave m’ dishes in the sink, now, would you, Joe?” and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson’s arrival.” At this moment in the text, us readers are not aware yet of what the lottery exactly is, but Mrs. Hutchinson and the entire town know. Although, Mrs. Hutchinson is fully aware of the situation she is in, there is still no way to prepare for the unexpected fate that lay ahead of her. There is always an unknown fate ahead of us and that fate cannot be controlled by even the strongest power. Another character that factors into the theme is Mr. Summers. His actions and language make the lottery seem like any town event, he treats the occasion as such it were a town fair or contest. In other words, Mr. Summers conveys the theme that the lottery has become such a tradition that is a norm in their society. The whole town shows this theme when kids and adults lightly gather rocks and stones even with the knowledge of what violence the rocks will be used for. A darker aspect comes into play when Tessie Hutchinson is picked and people begin to throw rocks. The story states “The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles.” Tessie Hutchinson had no idea that moments after she walked out of her home and conversated humorous jokes with the people of the town, that they would be the ones to lay her on her deathbed. She also had no idea that even her young son, her blood and flesh, would take part in this with no sympathy. This ties into not ever knowing what comes next and that this tradition is so normal that everyone is so powerless when the rocks are thrown that no one even bothers to feel sympathetic. Another character “Old Man Warner”, who had witnessed the lottery 77 times says “It’s not the way it used to be,” Old Man Warner said clearly. “People ain’t thd to be.” Although this can be interpreted in many ways, to me it implies that people have lost the ability to use human emotion as power, no one breaks tradition and this tradition has overpowered the community. At first it seems to make sense that it’s Tessie that is overpowered by the town throwing stones at her, but the darker, higher power that truly overpowers the whole town is tradition. Old Man Warner shows a theme that even applies to the state our world is in today. We do what everyone else does even if it is wrong and we don’t object to it. We have become almost robotic in this sense and people have lost the ability to use their humanity to go against it.
In the beginning of “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson sets the scene with “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.” The way the scene is set provides such a positive connotation which makes the story and town appear blissful and trouble free. The setting almost blinds the reader and the town. Mr. Summers sets up this old black box, yet the setting is so bright and happy, it seems the characters almost don’t seem to mind about what comes ahead. This whole positive setting only intensifies the unexpected event to come. The setting is completely offset when it is revealed what the lottery really is. Shirley Jackson then sets the new scene, ”Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of a head. Old man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” We now envision a crowd closing in on Tessie, stones in their hands. It’s not that the setting changed. It’s almost as if this clear sunny setting was merely a cover over the pessimistic setting that the story closes in on. There is a clear contrast between the first sentence of this story that sets the scene, “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny.” and one of the ending sentences “Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her.” This setting change or reveal really conveys the theme to always expect the unexpected.
The conflict in “The Lottery” is that people of the town don’t have the power to break free from tradition even if it is wrong. Throughout the story, not one person objects to the lottery nor for one moment considers that it is wrong. When something has become a tradition, it is strengthened by time and generations of people, there is only the smallest chance, that anyone will break free from this and defy what everyone has done in the past, present, and what they are expected to do in the future. ‘ The odd thing amongst this conflict is that nobody ever realizes that the lottery is wrong until they are head to head with it. When Tessie Hutchinson realizes Bill Hutchinson is the one chosen for drawing, she begins to make remarks such as “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair!” Then Mrs. Delacroix says “Be a good sport, Tessie,”, and Mrs. Graves said, “All of us took the same chance.” Everyone else like Mrs. Graves and Mrs. Delacroix take the situation so lightly because they are not the ones face to face with it. Furthermore, nobody in this story questions the morality of the lottery until they are the ones targeted. The conflict connects to the theme because nobody expects that they will be the one picked, but if your mind is open to the idea that anything possibly imaginable can happen, you spare the despair of anything bad that comes your way. The moment when the most unexpected event hits you, you will know that it is righteous because you expected the unexpected. As for the resolution of the story, there is never actually one.
In “The Lottery”, one of the archetypes that can be found is the “sovereign or leader archetype”. I believe the symbol of the black box applies to this archetype. The symbol of the black box represents tradition almost like the leader archetype. The power that the tradition of the box holds rules over the whole town. The story states “ Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box.” Despite the harm and darkness of the tradition, the archetype that the box holds keeps the town in order. This relates to the theme of the tradition as a norm. The tradition has become such a normal part of the town people’s lives that the town would lose control if the tradition stopped ruling over them. Another archetype is the “everyman”. The whole town embodies this archetype, but a specific example is when Tessie complains how the drawing wasn’t fair and Mrs. Delacroix says “ Be a good sport, Tessie, and Mr. Graves said, “All of us took the same chance.” Even though one of their friends is about to be chosen to die, they choose to act like it is simply not a big deal. They don’t have the motive to change anything despite it being wrong because they find comfort in the safety of following what everyone else is doing because then they are not alone, not riskful. Once again, Tessie had not even expected to be in this situation with even her friends acting as if everything is okay without any empathy. Possibly there was a point where she might’ve thought these people would’ve done something to help her. But at the end of the day characters like Mrs. Delacroix and Mr. Graves are always the every person archetype. They all want the same thing to the point where it isn’t even an individual motive, but rather just for everybody. The sadness in this is the tradition is a movement, a march towards the same thing with no actual change or freedom. And everyone is too afraid to step out and venture onto a different path, they put away their individual desires and aspirations to stay safe.
“The Lottery” is quite similar to stories such as “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. In both stories, death is and violence are easily seen as normal and required in needs to survive. Both “The Lottery” and “The Hunger Games” have the ability to make us defy what everyone else is doing. Although unlike “The Lottery” where the end results in death, in “The Hunger Games”, the ending results in a survivor. Therefore the motives for death are different in each text, in “The Hunger Games”, the motive is survival, while in “The Lottery”, the motive is tradition. The theme of “The Hunger Games” is sacrifice. Throughout the book, Katniss makes a large amount of sacrifices from volunteering herself as tribute for her sister, Prim to sacrificing her need to feel vulnerable in order to survive. The theme of “The Lottery” is tradition. Every year the lottery occurs, the same box, the same method of violence, no change. These themes are similar because both include losing something or someone in order to move forward. In the lottery, the tradition is a ritual that involves losing someone while in the hunger games, Katniss is constantly losing things just to survive. Both of these themes intertwine to create a unified theme, you’ve got to lose some things to get some things.
In closing, the lottery teaches us that no matter how much we think we are in control, the unknown fate that lies ahead of us cannot be predicted or controlled. Therefore if we are open to endless possibilities, when something unexpected appears before us, we won’t have to suffer. If we always keep in mind that anything can happen, then we can live our present lives, everyday to their greatest extent to get the best out of it because we have no knowledge of when the unknown will strike. The lottery also teaches us that no matter how strong a tradition is, it’s never too late to break away from it. And despite the ending of the lottery, it is only a gesture for us to create a different ending for ourselves. The lottery is truly a riveting piece because ultimately we are left with the lasting impression that questions the morality of norms in our society, teaches us to expect the unexpected, and gives us the courage to defy tradition.”
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