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Essay/Term paper: The lottery

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines tradition as, an inherited,

established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a

religious practice or a social custom) and the handing down of

information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from

one generation to another without written instruction. If we are to go

by the latter definition , we can understand how traditions are easily

lost. Have you ever played the game telephone? You whisper something in

someone's ear and they whisper it in another person^s ear until it

finally returns back to you and normally what is returned isn't even

close to what you originally whispered into the first person's ear In

Shirley Jackson's short story ,"The Lottery" ,the main theme is how

traditions that lose their meaning due to human forgetfulness can cause

dreadful consequences to occur. Jackson uses a lot of symbolism to show

this. The story is set in a small town, ^on the morning of June

27th^(272). It opens with false innocence , using the children building

a rock pile, tricking the reader into a disturbingly unaware state.

The reader almost expects the Lottery to be something wonderful since

the "normal" lottery has the winner getting a prize of a large amount

of money or possesion. Even the story alludes to the innocence ,

explaining how the the town also holds ^square dances, teenage club and

the Halloween program^(273) in the same spot that the lottery is held.

In "the Lottery" we discover that the town-folk use a lottery, to pick

a "winner" to stone to death. The winner is picked using a black box

that has been around for ages, and has even been ^rebuilt with parts

supposedly from the original black box^.(273) Within the box are slips

of paper, enough for the entire town. On one slip of paper is a black

dot for the one lucky winner. Black has always been a symbol for death,

and the color of the box and dot are no exception to this rule. One of

Merriam-Webster^s dictionary definitions of black is ^marked by the

occurance of disaster^ . The black dot on the slip of paper

identifies the lucky winner of the lottery-the person who will get

stoned to death. No-one in town really knows exactly why it is a

tradition although they have some vague ideas. Old Man Warner alludes

that it was once said "lottery in June, corn be heavy soon".(276)

Ironically, even the oldest member of this village doesn^t even

remember the real reason behind the lottery. Although ^The villagers

had forgotten the ritual and lost the original box, they still

remembered to use stones" (278). Do people just pick and choose which

part of a tradition they want to keep?

On the eighth paragraph of ^The Lottery^, the character Tessie

Huchinson, comes rushing to the square because she ^clean forgot what

day it was^(274). This shows how easily a person can forget things. It

also alludes to the murderous ritual when Tessie exclaims ^wouldn^t

have me leave m^dishes in the sink^. Why would anyone who is

participating in a lottery have to worry about dirty dishes, unless the

prize was something dreadful. Tessie appears to not take the ritual

seriously, possibly because of the amount of people in the village or

the fact she has been desensitized to the violent ritual. It can be

assumed that Tessie doesn^t know very much about the history of the

tradition because the man who is ^the official of the lottery^,(274)

Mr. Summers, doesn^t remember the history either.

Mr. Summers, the official of the lottery, doesn^t know that there is a

^perfunctory tuneless chant ^(274) that he was supposed to sing during

the lottery or a ^ritual salute^(274) that he was supposed to use when

addressing each person who came up to the black box. The unnamed

villagers who remember some bits of history about those forgotten

aspects of the ritual, aren^t even definite about the accuracy of

their beliefs. Some believe that the ^official of the lottery should

stand^ a certain way when he sang the chant, other believe that he

should ^walk among the people^(274). No-one exactly remembers the hows

and whys of the tradition, most have become completely desensitized to

the murderous rituals. In paragraph two, the children are so

desensitized that they are actually enjoying themselves while they are

collecting rocks as a sadistic prize for the lottery^s winner. Although

they are very young they remember some aspects of the ritual. Bobby

Martin stuffs ^his pockets full of stones^ (272)as if it were money and

not a murder weapon. Three of the villagers children ^eventually made

a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it

against rids of the other boys.^(272) The children know that they are

supposed to use smooth round stones to kill the winner but they do not

know why nor do they seem to care. Because the adults have forgotten

the traditions history ,the children know even less and they are

desensitized to murder , thinking it^s just another fun holiday like


In modern times we can see a reflection of ^The Lottery^ in Christmas.

Christmas was originally intended to celebrate the miracle of Christ^s

birth, but over time Christmas has become more commercialized and

associated with pagan beliefs. Since many parents have forgotten the

true meaning of Christmas, many children misinterpret Christmas as a

^gimmie^ holiday rather then a holiday commemorating the virgin birth

of Jesus. We cannot entirely blame this on human forgetfulness without

addressing the issue of hypocrisy. People hear what they want to hear

and choose what rituals to keep for traditions .

The townspeople could have changed the tradition or even investigated

the history of the tradition. They, the townspeople, had an active role

in the murder of Tessie and cannot blame their actions on forgetfulness

but rather on hypocrisy. When Mrs. Delacroix was selecting a ^stone so

large she had to pick it up with both hands^,(278) she could have

stopped and questioned the ethics of ^the Lottery.

Forgotten traditions can be extremely dangerous as Shirley Jackson

points out in her short story. It, the lottery, could have taken place

in any small town across America. Any one of us can forgot something

important about a tradition that could eventually lead to dreadful

consequences . The simple game of telephone proves that we are just

like those townspeople, forgetting the original words but continuing

on as if the words we know are the original.

Works Cited

Jackson , Shirley ^ÓThe Lottery^Ô The Bedford Guide for College Writers Bedord-St. Martins 1999

Jackson, Shirley ^ÓThe Lottery^Ô Http://www.bal.com/shorts/stories/lotry.html


^ÓThe Lottery^Ô Dir. Daniel Sackheim 1996 (Made for T.V.)


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