Tradition or Cruelty in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery

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In our society we have many traditions. These traditions all have certain meanings behind them; however, many of those meanings tend to be lost or forgotten. The holiday of Thanksgiving was originally a celebration to commemorate the arrival of the pilgrims in the new world and their first interactions with the Native Americans. So then why is it still celebrated today? There is no actual purpose in today’s society to observe this custom. It has just continued to be observed because of past traditions. There is no logical reason to continue this fête, as it holds little or no value. With the passage of time the actual reasons have been lost or distorted, such as in the case of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”

Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” focuses on an outdated tradition, similar to the holiday of Thanksgiving; the town in her story observes a custom which holds little or no reasonable purpose in society. The lottery is performed every year, and the winner – instead of winning money or a prize – gets stones thrown at them by the other town members. What is the purpose of this lottery? There existed an actual purpose behind it; it was used as a ritual to influence the growing season, but in the modern time period in which Jackson sets the story, this purpose is unclear. The tradition is old-fashioned and has lost all explanation behind its use.

Those who participate can only remember certain parts of the ritual of the lottery, and even then, these parts are not performed the same. Other parts have been completely done away with and forgotten.

At one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory, tuneless chant that had be...

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...an not be any real purpose to its practice. But, as tradition tends to have a strong hold on a society, it will be continued for years to come if people do not do anything to change it. Old Man Warner can see that this is a threat, and that times are changing: “It’s not the way it used to be,” he says. “People ain’t the way they used to be” (79). In modern day society, there can be no moral justification for the practice of the lottery and the brutal killings that result from it. Nevertheless, this tradition has a strong grip on this village, and “although the villagers had forgotten the ritual… they still remembered to use stones” (79).

Works Cited

Griffin, Amy. “Jackson’s The Lottery.” Explicator, Fall 1999, Vol. 58 Issue 1. (1999): 44.

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The Accommodating Reader. Ed. Susan Gunter. McGraw-Hill Primis, 2003. 73-79.
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