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Shirley Jackson's The Lottery (A Critique)

Updated on April 22, 2011

The Lottery in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” plays out like any other lottery. Everyone has a chance to win. Participants give something in order to receive something. Receipts mark participation. There are winners and losers. In this lottery, the chance to win is highly in the participants favor. Winners and losers both receive a stone. The winners are awarded a stone by taking one and the loser is awarded the stone by the winners giving all the stones to the looser. Thought the Lottery everyone is aware the stakes, and the outcome. If everyone one participates in the lottery, then everyone accepts the totality of the lottery. Then, as far as everyone in the town is concerned, the outcome of the lottery is an arbitrary inevitability of being participate of it.

The Lottery predates everyone in the town. None of the characters know why it’s done anymore, but they all agree that it has to continue. “At one point in the village's history, the lottery represented a grave experience, and all who participated understood the profound meaning of the tradition. But as time passed, the villagers began to take the ritual lightly. They endure it almost as automatons…” (Griffin) The original historicity of the lottery is outside the realm of understanding for the town. The lottery is in effect because it’s always been in effect. If the history of the lottery was significant then it would have been passed down through the generations of the town by word of mouth but since it wasn’t it means that the lottery is what is important to the town and not where it came from. The ignorance of the origins of does not bother the town in one way or the other. The lottery in a way, symbolizes life. We are thrown into life without purpose or universal drive, and at some point in the future we will die and there will be no reason for it.

Ms Hutchinson screams several times, “The lottery is unfair!” (214) she knows her complaints are falling on deaf ears. She is making a value assessment. The lottery is fair until it isn’t; it’s fair until it’s her. “Jackson pushes Tessie's survival instinct to the most shameful level by having her turn on her own flesh and blood. Tessie desperately tries to improve her odds for survival by defying tradition…” (Coulthard) By instigating her survival instinct, she is making a claim on the value of her life, she declares she is more important that anyone else, including her family.

Mrs. Hutchinson sees her condemnation to die as the end of herself, and she is all she knows, but she has participated in the lottery for all the years of her life and knows that anything thing that she says from the point of winning to the point of the towns enactment of the lottery is useless, and yet she rebels. “Her protests of the unfairness of the process--a thought that only now has occurred to her, since there is every likelihood of her becoming the chosen victim have a distinctly hollow ring to them, and her defiant glance around the crowd, her lips pursed, as she truculently goes up to the lottery box to pick her ticket, belies her earlier easygoing demeanor.” (Yarmove) She could have left the town, but she didn’t. She knows that her whines and complaints are negated by the established history of every year she participated in the lottery. She knows the lottery is just as fair as any other way to die. The lottery is random happenstance. Wither death comes peacefully while sleeping or by a stone to the head on “June 27th” (208) it is an unavoidable side effect of her life, and her free choice to continue living in the town.

The black box though throughout the time of the lottery has changed but only to serve the purpose of the lottery. The original ticket stubs were made of “Wood” (p. 210) and later substituted for “paper” (P20) because the town grew in size and the black box could not contain wood chip size pieces to represent the larger population. The town has a un-tradional set of ethics, that everyone is equal across the board; age, sex, nationality are all null in void universally. The old and the young may not agree to the purposes of the lottery but accept the procedure all the same. This acceptance sets up a very obscure social contract with in the town. Every family has the right to live and go about their life except for one day in June where the life of one is put in control of a box and a single slip of paper. The box signifies the history of the lottery and because it is made of non-living material it is a totem to the inescapable history and outcome of the lottery and of life.

Every member of the town down to the children have a solid grasp on what they are doing. The children pregame the lottery by, “selecting the smoothest and roundest stones” (209) and, “… eventually making a great pile of stones in on corner of the square” (209) before the collective of the town massed. The children must have been told by their parents that the smoothest and roundest stones were the best to gather. No child knows that the smoothest and roundest stones create less friction while flying through the air and are thereby more lethal when they coincide with the head of the lottery winner; “the ones best for accurate throwing.” (Coulthard) The town then had a proper understanding of how best to commit a stoning, either through the history no one knew of the lottery or because of the adaption the lottery took over time. The town used the past of the lottery to enact what they should do in the present and how they should look at the future.

Participation in the lottery is acceptance of the lottery. The town is willing to die in order to live within the town. “It’s not the way it used to be,” Old Man Warner said clearly,” People aren’t they way they used to be.”” Old Man Warner was commenting on Ms Hutchinson’s incapability of accepting her part in the lottery. Warner sees Ms Hutchinson as a whipper-snapper not conducting herself to the tradition of the lottery. Her out bursts are her way of rebelling against her situation enough though she is incapable to come to terms with the ritual, but in her denial of her situation she attempts to defy her fate. The lottery is accepted as tradition among the town folk. Every one of them knows the rules of the ritual, even if the denial of death hazes their cognizance of end result. The lottery itself is tradition. It is like any holiday or festival a town might engage in. If a town puts a Christmas tree up in its town square, the town will know it needs to be decorated and at the end of the season it will need to be taken down. The same custom applies to the lottery; if the applicant loses he or she will be stoned. Every applicant is well aware of complete ritual associated with the lottery from the start.

Works Cited


Jackson, Shirley. "The Lottery" Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. ED. Edgar V. Ropers and Henry E. Jacobs. 3rd Compact Ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2006 208-214

Yarmove, Jay A. “Jackson’s The Lottery” Explicator; Summer94, Vol. 52 Issue 4, p242, 4p Academic Search Complete

Dec 2009

Griffin, Amy A.  “Jackson’s The Lottery” Explicator; Fall99, Vol. 58 Issue 1, p44, 3p Academic Search Complete

Dec 2009

Coulthard, A.R. Explicator; Spring90, Vol. 48 Issue 3, p226, 3p Academic Search Complete

Dec 2009



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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      @Izombiheartzoey I agree what you were saying about society laws,etc. The prison system and capitalism as a whole is a lottery system. Not that you can't earn your way into either one of those, but for the most part, those situations are caused by factors beyond their control such as having rich parents, so they can afford bail bonds and lawyers, so they won't end up in jail or prison and they get to go to the best schools, so they are likely to be rich even aside from their inheritance. Poor people inherit poverty, communities with crime and drugs, etc. They can get out, sure, you can do anything in America, but it's only obvious most people just follow predetermined paths, even when they get off track and path correct, an ego ideal.

    • Izombiheartzoey profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Wait so why was this flagged for "This Hub appears to be about gambling for money". I think hubpages might be illiterate!

    • Izombiheartzoey profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      The biggest problem with literature classes is that they assume everything has some kernel core of meaning that you must find. They never let on to the fact that things only mean something in a story because we read meaning into them. So, the lottery may actually have no center of meaning. But, in a class they trick you into assuming meaning.

    • Izombiheartzoey profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Think in terms of abraham. Arbitrary call to sacrifice what is most important. In his CSS his son. Bring it in to contemporary relevance you have to apply the same arbitrary sacrifice with in a democratic ideology, in that what is important is it's the equality of every individual. The son is no more or less important then the parent. The only way to sacrifice in a democracy is at random equality. Some one must always be sacrificed in a human community but because not everyone and their ideologies are accepted. In this country, we don't tolerate murders, so we revoke their citizenship and put them in prison, to be less than equal.

      What's left out in the story is the reason why, but the reason why doesn't matter. Because culture is man made, therefor as arbitrary as the lottery.

    • feenix profile image


      8 years ago

      izombiheartzoey, I am doing my best to equate "The Lottery" with some current phenomenon but I can't think of anything at all. This story goes way over my head, which is not saying much because I am not that smart.


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