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Necessary Sacrifice in The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson Essay

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When Shirley Jackson first published her short story “The Lottery,” it caused a great deal of controversy. It warranted high critical acclaim, but it also brought threats to Jackson’s life. The public was outraged that she would write such a violent story, which ended with the unmerciful killing of an innocent woman. The violence in response to the story ironically reflects the violence within, and reveals a darker, yet necessary, part of the human psyche. The characters in “The Lottery” require the violent ritual to live peaceful and happy lives. The violent tradition is beneficial to the town’s people because it supports a healthy group psychology, is a conditioned behavioral norm for every generation, ensures the majority’s well-being, and is integrated into their religious belief.
The town’s collective mental state is kept in balance by holding a lottery each year. Human beings are capable of great things, but interlaced with the possibility for greatness is a capacity for destruction. David Livingston Smith, a professor of philosophy and the director of the Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology at the University of New England, discusses man’s history in his book The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War. He admits, “[Human beings’] noble achievements are only half the picture. They exist side by side with an array of less appealing characteristics,” (41). Violence and cruelty amongst the species is part of our most basic human nature and has proved to be unavoidable throughout history. A prime example of the capabilities of man against itself is the Holocaust, which has been theorized to be the symbolized subject of Jackson’s story. However, “The Lottery” shows a healthy, structu...


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...eration, the majority’s welfare, and an adopted religious belief.



Works Cited
Cooley, Charles Horton. Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Schocken Books,
1964. Print.
Hoffman, Louis, John L. Hoffman, Joy L. S. Hoffman, and Heatherlyn P. Cleare-Hoffman.
"Culture, Religion, and Spirituality: How Spirituality Saved Religion." The Healing Power of Spirituality: How Faith Helps Humans Thrive. Santa Barbara (Calif.): ABC-Clio, 2010. Print.
Smith, David Livingstone. The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007. Print.
Smith, Joanne R., Michael A. Hogg, Robin Martin, Deborah J. Terry. "Uncertainty And The
Influence Of Group Norms In The Attitude-Behaviour Relationship." British Journal Of Social Psychology 46.4 (2007): 769-792. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 12 Apr. 2012.


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