The Different Use of Silence in The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Che Guevara, a major influence of the Cuban revolution from 1953 to 1959, once said that “Silence is argument carried out by other means.” (Guevara) What could be meant by this quote is that silence can be utilized throughout different ministries by different people. In both Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” and Suzanne Collins’s 374 page novel ”The Hunger Games,” citizens participate in traditions involving the sacrifice of innocent human life with silence as a common acknowledgment. However, characterization and gesture in the texts portray the difference between the stories with similar themes; The citizens in “The Lottery” blindly accept the old tradition using their silence as a mark of approval, while citizens in “The Hunger Games” view their tradition as a punishment their society forces upon them where the silence is used as a protest in the first step of their three books long revolution.

The convoluted characters in the short story “The Lottery,” remain silent when they face the malevolent essence of their city’s lottery, therefore giving their consent of the inconsequential assassination of one representative of their community every year.

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The characters in the short story are described as impatient and eager to go back to their everyday life’s schedule, as if the feelings toward the tradition resembles an assignment or a housework chore that no one looks forward to but that has to be done. Even though a straightforward explanation for the logic of the lottery is never revealed in the original text, the villagers conduct as if it cannot be avoided.

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This is particularly demonstrated in these lines:

“They do say,” Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery.” Old Man Warner snorted. ”Pack of crazy fools,” he said. ”Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,” he added petulantly. (Jackson, 246).

Old Man Warner, the oldest and the most lottery experienced man in town, sees the tradition and the practice of the killings not only as a necessity for the community’s well fare, but ironically also as a sophisticated tradition that prevents the town and its people from relapsing. This is one comprehension why, even though tension and uncomfortableness are described by the use of the individual’s gestures in other parts of the story, no one possesses the courage to stand up to the wrongdoings and defend the victims it claims. They all manage to do what they have always done, nothing, because who knows what might happen if they decide to change.

A literary reference book that addresses the significance of the silence in “The lottery,” “American Women Writers” edited by Lina Mainiero, states that “the basic theme (of the lottery)… is the prevalence of community social evil in which all participate and all condone” (Mainiero, 130). This argument distributes the thought that all members of the village, young and old, are guilty of the crimes committed by the society because they choose to proceed with the tyrannic lottery, which should but fails in all aspects to be acknowledged as morally condemnable. However, a judgment such as that involving everyone in the village may not be considered politically correct. Even though there are no oral complaints or protests about the diabolical tradition, Jackson provides the readers with hints and clues every now and then concerning what might be occurring in certain characters thoughts. One very forthright example of that is:

Soon the men began to gather, surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes. They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than  laughed. (Jackson, 243).

The discomfort that is displayed in the text suggests that the men did not only know what they are about to witness and participate in, but they also knew that the victim could be anyone, even themselves or their loved ones. And if not this year, perhaps the next or the one after that. Their human instincts are telling them that this is not right, that if they are the ones chosen by the lottery they would protest, but still they remain silent. Because they did not pick the winning lottery ticket, they did not have to die today. Although no measurements are taken in the story to rebel against the lottery and its wickedness, Jackson provides the readers with a sense of awareness, using the individual’s gestures, indicating that if it were up to the men in the quote above, this town might never have started the killing tradition in the first place.

In Suzanne Collins’s novel ”The Hunger Games,” silence is also used by the citizens. However, not for accepting, instead they use their silence to rebel against their government and the government’s way of slaughtering innocent children through a yearly ‘reaping’. This is what happens when a sixteen-year-old girl from one of the most unprivileged districts of the country decides to volunteer in the reaping to save her younger sister’s life.

To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps… Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or knew my father, or have encountered Prim, who no one can help loving. So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong. (Collins, 24).

Though the people of district 12 are violently restrained by their tyrannical government, they bravely use this epideictical and simple act as a protest against their suppressor’s viciousness. In counterpoint to Jackson and “The Lottery,” where the victim’s fate is more or less unavoidable, Collins in “The Hunger Games,” gives the opportunity for the all the citizens between 8 and 18 to volunteer in the place for one of the unlucky tributes, to sacrifice them self in order to save someone else’s life. Getting further into the book readers will discover that volunteers are mainly from the wealthier parts of the country due to, “…in some districts, where winning the reaping is such a great honor, people are eager to risk their lives…” (Collins, 22). Therefore, untrained children from the poorer districts where this story begins are at a huge disfavor and are nearly almost guaranteed an immediate death, a notion that makes this young girl’s act of volunteering in the place of her sister all the more heroic. Her heroic act is the reason for this strong reaction from her district’s people. ”At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the tree middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me… It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love.” (Collins, 24) Even though the citizen of District 12 might not be aware of it, this is where the fire of the revolution starts burning. When a young girl refuses to watch her beloved little sister die by the hands of the inequitable government, and all her fellow villagers decides to honor her decision by taking part in a silent protest. This is when silence originates to mean something more than we agree, we will not resist. This is where keeping silent starts being bravery.

In” Of Bread, Blood And The Hunger Games: Critical Essays On The Suzanne Collins Trilogy” Pharr and his co-writers analyses the bravery of District 12 when they disobey the Capitol by not applauding or cheering after the tributes are chosen. They write that not only are the district forced to sacrifice two innocent children in the games, they are also forced to participate in the cheering for the tributes’ death, which makes the games all the more torturous.

Watching yourself and your loved ones on television being killed in the name of the Capitol’s overarching power is what counts for entertainment. Because the Games encourage audiences to cheer for the success or failure of certain tributes, the Gamemakers affect how people feel… (Pharr, 108)

Although it would have been understandable for the people of district 12 to do as they were told when their suppressors forced them to participate and cheer for the tributes of the game, they did not. Enough was enough. One little spark was all it took to light the fire of the revolution and here it was. A sixteen-year-old became the face of the rebels that brought down the Capitol.

“The Hunger Games” is a prime example of how human beings can come together and integrated with each other face the malevolent nature of its oppressors. In “Precarious Dystopias: The Hunger Games, in Time, and Never Let Me Go” author Mark Fisher expresses his opinion on why ”The hunger Games” by Susanne Collins is superior to all of its precursors. “What makes The Hunger Games more than a workaday thriller is its disclosing of a world — a world that, as with all dystopias that connect, is a distorting mirror of our own.” (Fisher, 116) Fisher connects the gesture of silence used in the book with the reality of today. He believes that if history was changed, the hunger games could be a reality of today. A reality where the only way out would be rebellion. Unfortunately silence today is used much like in “The Lottery,” as a way of not standing up for what is wrong, and Fisher sees this book as a reminder to never let the fear of consequences stop him from speaking up against wrongness.

The ultimate inequality among the townspeople in ”The Lottery” and the villagers in “The Hunger Games” is their compliance to partake in the social behavior of their surroundings. Jackson in ”The Lottery,” describes the residents of the city as attentive and consenting in their roles as executors, and disregarding to the humanity of their lottery winners. However, the young tributes in “The Hunger Games” are not alone as victims in this story, as their whole community is accountable for their suppressor’s wrath. Although the residents of the village in “The Lottery” are not compelled to perform the assassinations, they linger in silence when faced with the timeworn ritual and they faithfully continue the practice in order to keep their community stable and organized. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of District 12 in “The Hunger Games” are horrified by their government’s misdemeanor against humankind, but are defenseless against the wrongdoings of their government’s power. These townspeople, who have been convulsed injustice from the government for centuries, then utilize silence as their only instrument of showing disapproval. As a conclusion, ”The Lottery” gives an example of the destructive nature that silence can bring if people let it, while “The Hunger Games” uses the same gesture of silence to conduct their disapproval to a sadistic and abhorrent act enforced upon their people. Silence can have multiple meanings, as humans our worst crime is to let it be a startled act to accept wrongdoings when all that is needed is a brave voice to speak of what is right. Martin Luther King Jr said that “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.) All that is needed is a person to be brave enough to speak against what is wrong, and more good people will join.


Works Cited

  1. Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. Print.
  2. Fisher, Mark. Precarious Dystopias: The Hunger Games, in Time, and Never Let Me Go.
  3. Detroit: Gale, 2014. Contemporary Literary Criticism Online. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
  4. Guevara, Che. “Quote By Che Guevara.” Quotery. n.d. Sun. 19 Apr. 2015.
  5. Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” Literature: A portable anthology. Ed. Janet E. Gardner, Beverly Lawn, Jack Ridl and Peter Schakel. Third edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. 242-249. Print.
  6. Mainiero, Lina. American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Ungar, 1979. Print.
  7. “Martin Luther King, Jr..” Xplore Inc, 2015. 19 April 2015.
  8. Pharr, Mary F., Donald E. Palumbo, and Leisa A. Clark. Of Bread, Blood And The Hunger Games: Critical Essays On The Suzanne Collins Trilogy. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

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The Different Use of Silence in The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. (2021, Oct 09). Retrieved from

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