Seth Cassel
November 2005


The Lottery

On the last page of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, Mrs. Hutchinson cries out in desperation, "It isn't fair, it isn't right" (17), as the villagers start stoning her. The villagers are portrayed as simple people throughout the story until the last passage when they become savage beasts carrying out an age-old ritual. Once Mrs. Hutchinson "wins" the lottery by picking the ticket out of the black box, the villagers unquestioningly grab stones and advance towards her. Shirley Jackson uses the black box and the stones as symbols to emphasize that a cold and inhumane loss of respect for human life comes as a result of mechanically carrying out rituals.

The black box is an object that represents how the villagers have become entranced in the gruesome tradition of stoning people. They do not question the purpose of the box; they simply think that the history and the tradition that the black box represents are right. They do not want to "upset theā€¦ tradition" (3) of the black box. The villagers treat the black box like a person would treat a holy object that they have grown up knowing about but never know its significance. They approach the black box with caution and a certain degree of wariness, but they "keep their distance" (3). Jackson gives life to the black box and makes it seem like a magician put a spell on the commoners to follow its beliefs. The villagers learn as they grow up that the ritual of picking a person to stone each year is part of life. Therefore, no one probes into the point of having the ritual, thus giving in to the black box's supremacy.

When the villagers brutally stone the citizen who has "won" the lottery, it displays how their moral values have been decimated to the point where they now are cold, heartless beings no different than the inanimate stones they use for their deadly acts. A person who still has the capacity to reason would be harshly awoken by the truth that he or she was in the act of killing an innocent person. The boys of the village select the "smoothest and roundest stones" (1), which shows how they regard it as a game. There is the illusion that they are going to go skip rocks. This adds to the lightness that Jackson's short story creates in the beginning. In the end, however, the actions that the boys take to select the rocks only shows how perverted the minds of all the villagers are, from young to old, because even "someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles" (17). The villagers cannot analyze why they are picking up a stone, a cold unfeeling object itself, and then shattering a life. At the first Lottery that children attend and from then on, they are trained in the barbaric ritual. Therefore, children do not question the Lottery's value for the rest of their days because the tradition itself has been engrained in their young, vulnerable minds. Early in their lives, the villagers in The Lottery have lost the capability to analyze the decisions they make, and therefore like the inanimate stones, they cannot change.

The villagers learn from a very young age to disregard reasoning when carrying out the Lottery and to regard the tradition as a light ceremony. Throughout the Lottery, the villagers are relaxed, and they do not dare to cross the line of questioning the significance of the ritual. Jackson cautions the reader that the effects of following an idea with a closed mind could hurt other people mentally or physically. She warns that if this process persists, it can turn into a ritual that is blindly followed without thought.