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“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is a unique, twisted short story that describes a town’s lottery tradition that appears to be a fun, happy tradition, but it is the contrary. All the town members gather for the lottery, a ritualistic ceremony where one person becomes the “winner” by drawing pieces of paper from an old, black box. This “winner” is then put onto a platform and everyone throws rocks at this person until he or she dies. This year, Tessie Hutchinson was chosen to be stoned to death.
All town members, including her friends and family members were all full of smiles and laughter as they threw rocks at Tessie until she died. This gruesome ritual has caught a lot of attention from the public because the town seems normal and just like any other town, but there is a gruesome tradition. This tradition seems like it would be part of a town that is maybe secluded from everyone else, but the idea that the tradition seems normal is very chilling.
Despite this sickening tradition, there is a larger idea the author prevails. In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” she uses Tessie Hutchinson, the black box, and the Mr. and Mrs. Delacroix as symbols to convey the theme of mob mentality and how it makes people conform their behavior and become involved with a cruel murdering to satisfy an illogical tradition.
Tessie Hutchinson, the protagonist who rebels against the tradition and the “winner” of the lottery, is a reflection of the mob mentality during the lottery.
Tessie immediately stands out as she arrives late to the lottery because she forgot about it while she was busy doing chores. It is inappropriate to miss the lottery or to be late; everyone attends on time and the only person who did not attend was a man who broke his leg. As she arrives late, everyone has to move to the side so that she can be with her family, which draws more attention to her. During the ceremony, a slip of paper was chosen from the box and the Hutchinson Family was chosen. Tessie acted quickly and said, “I tell you it wasn’t fair. You didn’t give him enough time to choose. Everybody saw that” (Jackson 372). No one listens to her and even her own friends and family told her to be quiet and be a good sport (Jackson 372). The lottery proceeded and Tessie’s name had a black dot next to it on the slip of paper, which meant she was the one being sacrificed. She was essentially the “scapegoat” because she was being sacrificed and it seemed like it was a way for the town to remove their sin. However, it is rather ironic that they are removing their sin through the act of sin. Under the mob mentality, the towns people think it is just to remove sin by creating sin. Also, it is important to note that Tessie said she would sacrifice her own children instead of herself (Jackson 371). In the article, “Jackson’s The Lottery” the author says, “The soullessness of Tessie Hutchinson even denies the myth of family love. When her family is chosen to supply the victim, Jackson pushes Tessie’s survival instinct to the most shameful level by having her turn on her own flesh and blood” (Coulthard 227). This shows that she is not a “hero” or a “good person” because she ultimately acts irrationally too by giving up her children to save herself. This tradition makes people act unjust and act poorly on others, which is what Tessie did and was a reflection of. In addition, the fact that her children opened up the card and saw that Tessie was chosen to die and they both laughed as they were not chosen is sickening. (Jackson 372). It is shocking that her own children conform to this behavior and laugh about their mom being killed and not them.
Furthermore, the name “Tessie Hutchinson” is a symbol itself. Jay Yarmove’s article, “Jackson’s The Lottery,” he explains the significance of her name “Historically, there really was a well-known New England Hutchinson— Annie Hutchinson, who, having been exiled from Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638 because of her religious beliefs, emigrated to Rhode Island, where she established her own church (Yarmove 3).” Patrick Shields expands on this by saying, “In Salem witchcraft trials, purification rituals expelled the suspected pollutants in a similar fashion that modern day executions purport to do and in a similar arbitrary manner. Tessie Hutchinson serves this function for the greater good of the community. The community sees the lottery as serving this function also” (416). This is really important because Anne Hutchinson stands out compared to others and acted out, which aligns with Tessie’s behavior. Tessie is a symbol of Annie Hutchinson, someone who lost their life through an unjust, corrupt ritual. Tessie is the center of this ritual as she is not only the one who is chosen to die, the reader sees how she responds under this mob mentality from the tradition and realize that she is irrational, particularly, when she sacrifices her own children.
The black box, the box that holds the slips of paper for the lottery drawing, is the center of the tradition as it makes people act in unjust ways. Jackson describes the appearance of the box by saying, “The black box grew shabbier each year; by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some place faded and stained” (368). Also, she explains how it is older than the oldest man in town, Old Man Warner who has lived through seventy-seven lotteries (Jackson 368). This ultimately shows that the tradition is strong as it has been used many times and it is now falling apart. The simple idea that this lottery has been conducted for many years, continues to make the town members extremely devoted to the tradition as their ancestors have taken part in the tradition as well. Furthermore, it is important that box is black because black is the symbol of death. All these elements essentially make people act in unjust ways especially because it is a tradition that everyone does together as a town. As they see the black box, they obtain that mob mentality as it is something that determines the fate of the town as a whole. Patrick Shields describes in his article how Jackson uses the box as a symbol that triggers this mob mentality, he says, “Jackson has chosen simply objects such as stones, a box, and slips of paper to represent a simple-minded solution to provide for the betterment of the community” (417). He continues, “The villagers accept this solution in a trance-like state because it has always been done that way” (Shields, 417). This shows that they are faithful to a tradition that is a simple solution to remove their sins by choosing one person to die. Jackson uses the old, rotten box to show that not only the townspeople act “rotten,” but the whole tradition itself is illogical.
Furthermore, it is important to consider that each year Mr. Summers, the man who conducts the lottery, tries to replace the box with a new one, but each time, everyone becomes upset with the idea because it goes against tradition. The idea that this box is falling apart and old shows that people are faithful to their tradition and do not want to replace something that connects everyone in the town together. People have obtained this mentality that they cannot go against tradition and that they will not even get rid of something that looks like trash. This shows that the tradition itself is illogical and the decisions the townspeople make are also illogical.
Mrs. Delacroix is a symbol of the idea of how the mob mentality can take over and make one act in unjust ways to follow tradition. Jackson essentially captures this idea. Before the lottery starts, she explains how her husband is collecting stones with all of the other children to throw at the sacrificed individual. At the beginning of the lottery, Mrs. Delacroix acts like a friend to Tessie Hutchinson when they both laugh together when Tessie says, “Clean forgot what day it was” (Jackson 369). Then, when Tessie claims that it was unfair that her family’s name was chosen for the lottery, Delacroix says, “Be a good sport, Tessie” (Jackson 371). Finally, when Tessie’s name was chosen for death, Delacroix “selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands…” (Jackson 373). She is an extremely important character because she was friends with Tessie, but when it came to tradition, regardless that Tessie was her friend, she was picking up a stone that was so heavy that she needed both hands (Jackson 373). This shows that she acted barbaric in order to follow tradition even though it was her friend. Amy Griffin in her article “Jackson’s The Lottery” explains how Mrs. Delacroix acts in a personal compared to a group setting by saying, “on the individual level, the two women regard each other as friends, on the group level, they betray that relationship, satiating the mob mentality.” This is important because she obtained the mob mentality when she was taking part in the lottery even though she contributed to the killing of her friend. Also, it is important to consider that they were friends with the Grave’s family and Mrs. Delacroix talked to Mrs. Graves during the ceremony because he was usually silent and did not interact with anyone else at the ceremony (Jackson, 370). The Grave family ultimately was incorporated to foreshadow death as Mr. Graves is the one that brings in the black box on the stool. The idea that Mrs. Delacroix talked to Mrs. Graves foreshadows that she will take part of the killing. Mrs. Delacroix is the epitome of the theme of the story because she changes drastically by obtaining the mob mentality when it comes to tradition.
In addition, the name “Delacroix” is very important because the name means “of the Cross” in French (Cervo 1). Also, the villagers pronounce Delacroix as “Dellacroy” which is important as the “mispronunciation signals the villagers’ botching of the traditional Christian understanding of the Crucifixion” as Nathaniel Cervo explains (1). This mispronunciation is important because it shows that she does not uphold to her name and does not act morally right. The idea that people pronounce her family’s name wrong aligns with the idea that she does not represent what her name truly means, “of the Cross” by acting barbaric and assisting the murder of her friend. She is ultimately an important character in the story because she embodies the idea of following tradition under the mob mentality.
Shirley Jackson was able to convey this theme by using Tessie Hutchinson, the black box, and Mrs. Delacroix as symbols to display the mob mentality when upholding to tradition. The way Jackson can make the reader feel as if he or she is experiencing this tradition by describing any normal town’s tradition, and then twisting the ending is very unique and clever. I particularly liked how Amy A. Griffin concluded on this piece by saying, “Although civilized people may no longer hold lotteries, Jackson’s story illustrates that society’s tendency toward violence and its tendency to hold onto tradition, even meaningless, base tradition, reveal our need for both ritual and belonging” (46). This well said statement essentially embodies the idea of this piece. For instance, even though there are not typically events this extreme, everyone tends to conform to certain behaviors even if it does not align with their own beliefs to gain a sense of “belongingness” and community. By analyzing literary elements of “The Lottery” story, one can obtain a better understanding of how and why the Shirley Jackson has incorporated specific parts of the story, which leads to rewarding findings.
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