Violence and Human Nature in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery'

Categories: Irony

Violence is either innate of taught. In “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and “Marigolds” by Eugenia Collier the authors explain the human nature of violence by using symbolism to show more than the original meanings, irony to show the absurd nature of violence and metaphors to try to explain the complicated nature of violence. Violence is a part of innate human nature and both nature and nurture contribute to violence but with maturity, violence can be lessened.

The symbolism in the stories supports both.

Where and how Lizabeth grew up altered her violent tendencies. Symbolism shows readers more than the original image and adds a metaphorical image. In Marigolds Ms. Lahti’s marigolds are, “The strangest part of the picture,… The old black witch-woman worked on them all summer, every summer, down on her creaky knees”(163). The marigolds are the only thing that she has left that gives her joy. She is unbothered by her living conditions and only cares about those flowers.

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The flowers are a symbol of peace and tranquility. But Lizabeth then came and destroyed her marigolds, her peace, her tranquility. By casting that stone, she ended Miss Lottie’s joy. The stone was the opposite of the marigolds, The destruction and violence represented by the stone replaced the peace and tranquility of the marigolds when,” Zing- an expertly-aimed stone cut the head off one of the blossoms… Miss Lottie was enraged now. She began struggling to her feet, leaning on a rickety cane and shouting”(165). When the stone beheaded the flowers, Miss Lottie got up into a rage.

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Destroying her tranquility.

The destruction of the flowers that Miss Lottie held so dear to her did not bring anything good to Lizabeth, but only hurt Miss Lottie and Lizabeth. It is like violence. Violence does not help anyone and only brings pain to people. The innate act of the stone adds to the theory that humans are born with violence. And the stone continues its representation into “The Lottery” where the stones are a primary part in their festival each year. And at this annual festival, they would murder one innocent civilian with,” The pile of stones the boys had made earlier… The children had stones already, and some gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles” (62). The stones, that the children had collected, represent the expected and traditional violence in the village. The murder of this person is normalized and expected, and the adults raised their children to follow in this barbaric practice. The children are so brainwashed by the tradition that they do not notice the terrible acts that they are committing. In this story, the violence is taught to the children by the adults. In both stories, the stones are used to destroy something. They both represent violence, either that be violence directed directly at a person, or violence directed towards something they hold dear.

Violence is ironic because it destroys what you love yet wherever people are there is violence. Irony has many forms and can be used in many different ways to add to a story. In The Lottery the setting is situational irony where,” The morning of June 27th was clear any sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green” (53). The setting is completely opposite the outcome of the story, with a girl being stoned to death. The physical setting is very bright and happy but, the story is dark and depressing. Even though the setting is very bright and happy violence is about to take place. The innate violence of people can turn a beautiful day into a horrible, avoidable tragedy.

Another example of situational irony is in Marigolds. Miss Lottie’s marigolds, “interfered with the perfect ugliness of the place; they were too beautiful; they said too much that we could not understand; they did not make sense” (163). The marigolds clashed so much with the rest of the property, but also with the entire town. They contrasted so much with everything that they attracted violence from jealousy. The innate violence of the children brought out with jealousy made them destroy the flowers. On the other side of the story, following Lizabeth, her destruction of the thing she wanted is an example of dramatic irony. Lizabeth looks on to the “dazzling strip of bright blossoms, clumped together in enormous mounds, warm and passionate and sun-golden” (163). She describes the beauty of the blossoms. This is an obvious display that she wishes that she had those flowers. Yet, she destroys them a paragraph later. Her innate violence forming in jealousy brought her to destroying the thing that brought Miss Lottie happiness, but also what she wanted. The authors used irony to show the innate sense of violence and the human nature of violence.

Violence is complicated, so authors use metaphors to explore the human nature of violence. The authors use metaphors to express the questions of human nature. In the lottery, the village uses a black box to chose who will be killed. And each year, “The black box grew shabbier…by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained” (55). The box is a metaphor for the fading of the lottery. Mrs. Adams said that some places had stopped the lotteries. Where the box is described as damaged in the quote, it shows how the people are coming to their senses, and stopping the crazy tradition. And when it describes the box as showing the original wood color, it relates to the new generation seeing the tradition for what it really is, a barbaric execution. It shows that even if violence is taught to them that they can overcome and be free-seeing. At the end of the story in Marigolds, Lizabeth loses her childhood violence and gains maturity. After she had decapitated the marigolds she realized, “That violent, crazy act was the last act of my childhood. For I gazed at the immobile face with those sad, weary eyes, I gazed upon a kind of reality that is hidden to childhood. The witch was no longer a witch but only a broken old woman who had dared to create beauty in the midst of ugliness and sterility.

When she stopped being a child and gained her maturity after coming of age, she realized the error of her ways and remembered her mistake for years on. She lost her childish violence and gained maturity. This is relatable to The Lottery where the elders do not see the error in their ways and see the other villages who had ended the lottery as nothing but trouble. Perhaps the elders in the lottery have not gained their maturity and still hold onto their childish violence. In Marigolds, the cage is a metaphor for the inescapable hole of poverty. Lizabeth described that “poverty was the cage in which we all were trapped, and our hatred of it was still the vague, undirected restlessness of the zoo-bred flamingo who knows that nature created him to fly free” (160). The poverty kept them locked in the lifestyle that would lead them down a rabbit hole into violence. It was not that they were born to be violent, or born with the violence that would lead her to make such poor decisions to lead to destroying Miss Lottie’s marigolds. But it was the life they lived in, the upbringing that raised them to do this violent act.

Violence is an innate part of human nature, even though violence is a part of everyone people can learn how to stop it from controlling them. The authors’ use of symbolism shows the cost of violence that they ignore because of their nature and upbringing. They use irony to show how absurd violence is but no matter what happens there will always be violence. And they use metaphors to explore the complicated world of violence that is grown and nurtured by people. Violence is a seed that can be left festering or can be cut down with the scythe of maturity.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Violence and Human Nature in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery'. (2021, Jul 12). Retrieved from

Violence and Human Nature in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery' essay
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