Tradition or Cruelty in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery Essay

Tradition or Cruelty in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery Essay

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Tradition or Cruelty in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery


Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" satirizes barbaric traditions in a supposedly civilized village. As the story begins, the villagers appear to be fairly civilized and carry on fairly modern lifestyles. This is assumed by the men's discussion of planting, rain, tractors, and taxes. The lottery was outdated to such a degree that some may think that the tradition is primal competition of anthropoid beasts. On the other hand, some think that carrying on the tradition was necessary. The question that must be answered is: Was this a barbaric tradition or was this ritual an honest attempt to better other villager's lives?

Shortly after the publication of "The Lottery" in The New Yorker, "a flood of mail - hundreds of letters-deluged both the editorial offices in New York and the post office in Bennington" (Friedman 63). Miss Jackson said that out of all the letters sent, there were only thirteen that were positive responses, and those were from her friends (63). The letters consisted of "bewilderment, speculation, and old-fashioned abuse" (63). It is obvious that the initial reaction from the public was extremely negative. The readers perceived the story as a satire on them, as if they practiced barbaric ways.

Indeed there are countless references, hints, and blatant comments that refer to the barbaric theme in this story. The fact that the lottery itself is scheduled for 10:00 and it took only two hours, conveniently timed so that the villagers could get back home to eat lunch, shows that there is no concern for the "winner" of the lottery, only for themselves. The children collect stones, competing against the other children, and keeping friends from stealing from their ...


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...Although we are a modernized society, there are those primal animal-like instincts that still lurk inside every one of us. After exploring the barbaric theme in "The Lottery," it is evident that Shirley Jackson did intend to portray barbaric aspects of stoning people in order to have an abundant crop outcome to show to the reader that these barbaric actions happen today.

Works Cited

Coulthard, A. R. "Jackson's 'The Lottery' " The Explicator 48: 226-228.

Friedman, Lenemaja. Shirley Jackson. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1975.

Jackson, Shirley. "The Lottery." Modern Short Stories. Ed. Robert B. Heilman. Westport: Greenwood, 1971. 375-85.

Magill, Frank N. "Shirley Jackson." Critical Survey of Short Fiction. Salem Press, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. 1981. 1668-1674.

Nebeker, Helen C. 'The Lottery': Symbolic Tour de Force." American Literature 46 March 1974.

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