Short Story Saturday: “The Lottery”

Hello again! It’s that time of the week, and for this Saturday, I’ve decided to discuss Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery.”

Trust me, it’s not as much fun as it sounds.

So, we start off on a lovely summer day, where a small, unnamed village is getting ready for some kind of festival. Specifically, they’re getting ready for the town’s annual lottery. From here things, look pretty normal: the adults are conversing as their kids, letting out pent up energy from the just-ended school year, are running around playing. Near a large pile of rocks.

Pay attention to that, because it becomes important later.

Anyway, while all the preperations and rituals are taking place, Tessie Hutchinson runs in, quite a bit late. She explains to a Mrs. Delacroix that she had completely forgotten that the lottery was today, and didn’t realize it until shed realized her husband, Bill, and their three children, Bill Jr, Nancy, and Davy had all left the house. She then goes through the crowd to join her aforementioned family.

The guy who’s running the lottery, Mr. Summers, ends his speeches, and begins calling representatives from each family in alphabetical order, to go up and grab a slip of paper from a box. While this is going on, two of the men have a conversation about the lottery. Specifically, they’re discussing the fact that some towns have stopped holding lotteries altogether, and that others are talking about stopping it themselves. The older of the two, Old Man Warner, decries this as foolishness: “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.”

At any rate, the last family name is called, and the families are allowed to open their papers. A number of people start calling out who got “it,” with “it” being a slip of paper with a black dot on it, and someone calls out that Bill Hutchinson is the lucky winner.

Tessie has an interesting reaction to this: she protests, calling out that they need to redo it since Bill wasn’t given enough time to pick his paper. She’s actually downright hysterical by this point, especially considering that we don’t know what the lottery is for yet. However, tradition must be upheld, and the paper with the dot is placed back in the box along with four blank ones. You know, one for each member of the Hutchinson family.

All five of them are called back up, and they then draw their lots. Wouldn’t you know it, Tessie’s the one who gets the paper with the black dot. And that’s how she enters the Triwizard Tournament.

I’m just kidding. They actually stone her to death.

Seriously, it’s super disturbing. The story even makes a point that Davy, who is implied to be very, very young, is given several pebbles to huck at his mother.

So, the main theme of the story appears to be tradition. Now, tradition can be a good thing: it can bind certain communities together. However, traditions can also be harmful. Remember, some places had and still have a tradition of slavery, or female genital mutilation.

Or human sacrifice.

The funny thing about it is that no one really seems to understand why they’re still doing what they’re doing, other than that it’s tradition, and they’ve always done it that way. Which leads back to the main point: traditions, if they are actively harmful, need to be done away with.

Especially if they involve stoning people, because Jesus Christ.

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