Essay on Social Hysteria in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery

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Social Hysteria in The Lottery

Tradition is a central theme in Shirley Jackon's short story The Lottery. Images such as the black box and characters such as Old Man Warner, Mrs. Adams, and Mrs. Hutchinson display to the reader not only the tenacity with which the townspeople cling to the tradition of the lottery, but also the wavering support of it by others. In just a few pages, Jackson manages to examine the sometimes long forgotten purpose of rituals, as well as the inevitable questioning of the necessity for such customs.

The black box represents virtually the only part of the original ritual that has been preserved since the lottery began. It is there not only to hold the papers that will be drawn, but also to represent to
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Old Man Warner represents the sentiment of tradition that exists in most of the townspeople. He complains that much of the "ritual has been allowed to lapse." This is true. The only part of the original tradition that has been preserved is the use of the box and the stones. In a conversation with Mrs. Adams, he calls those thinking of giving up the lottery, "a pack of fools." To him, and many villagers, the lottery, Old Man Warner quotes an old adage "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon," as if a ritual sacrifice is necessary for a profitable season. This superstition is what probably deters many of the townsfolk from giving up the old tradition. "There's always been a lottery," Old Man Warner says, but he also adds, "it's not the way is used to be, people ain't the way they used to be."

Old Man Warner's observation that people's attitudes are changing is illustrated by Mrs. Hutchinson, the 'winner' of this year's lottery. Although obviously influenced by her position, Mrs. Hutchinson would like her town to follow the lead of other towns, and give up the ritual altogether. Her repeated cries of "it wasn't fair!" fall on deaf ears as the townspeople advance on her. As they see it, she is simply a sacrifice to the greater good of the town. Although Mrs. Hutchinson does not win her argument against the tradition, she represents changing attitudes, and the possibility that the lottery is outdated and
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