Religious Symbolism in The Lottery
In "The Lottery," Shirley Jackson reveals one of the most basic facets of humanity, the need for a scapegoat. Mrs. Hutchinson, having been designated the recipient of the lottery, becomes the scapegoat for the village. The tradition of the lottery is analogous to religious traditions because it is passed on at an early age, people rarely openly question it, and it focuses on a scapegoat.
Religious traditions are passed on to children at an early age, just as tiny Davy Hutchinson is taught about the lottery before he will understand the events that take place. Children and parents alike take part in the stoning, much in the same way that parents teach their children to follow their religious traditions. Children learn by example and are eager to please their parents. Even before the adults, "The children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles" (79).
Most people will not suggest outright that the lottery might be immoral. For the most part, they will accept their tradition without voicing any questions or misgivings, for fear of retribution. It has been passed on for so long that the majority does not think twice about it. Even when Mrs. Adams comments that "Some places have already quit lotteries" (77), she does not directly suggest that their village follow suit.
Mrs. Hutchinson represents the other villagers, although unwillingly, and takes their punishment as her own. Her stoning is an atonement of sorts in that it eradicates any wrongdoing in the other villagers. In this aspect, the lottery can be compared to religious traditions: the sacrificing of a virgin to appease the gods in ancient religions, or even in modern Protestant religions, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross to allow God's followers to be forgiven of their sins. The villagers do not see any crime in stoning one person each year because they view the stoning as a way to cleanse themselves. It is human nature for people to feel justified in their own wrongdoings if they have a scapegoat.
Jackson, Shirley. "The Lottery." Literature and the Writing Process. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 1999. 74-79.
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