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The Blind Obedience In “The Lottery”

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The Blind Obedience in “The Lottery”

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson written and published in 1948, takes place on June 27th in a small town of three hundred people. Villagers gather together at around ten o’clock for one of the main rituals called вЂ?the lotteryвЂ?, which takes place in the central square. “The lottery was conducted as were the square dances” (Jackson 31) illustrating the timely scheduled event. It is a normal day with “the fresh warmth of a full summer day” (Jackson 1). The men arte having regular conversations about “the planting, rain, tractors, and taxes” (Jackson 21) as they wait for the lottery to began. The lottery, an old tradition, is held every year and is done for the prosperity of the villagers. The secret about what the lottery entails is not revealed till the very end creating suspense for the reader. The lottery prize is actually randomly choosing a person in the village who is then violently stoned to death for the prosperity of the villagers in the hopes that their crops grow. Thus Jackson’s message of how custom and tradition can hold great power over human behavior, along with intolerable human cruelty to others and the theme of how men treat women as objects.

This story was the only work for which Shirley Jackson is known for among her two known published works. Nonetheless, this short piece is known only for the pessimistic criticism of the wilderness and cruelty of her imagination and visions in that era. Jackson’s insights and observations about man and society are disturbing and are thought to be very shocking. As Friedman states “the themes themselves are not new: evil cloaked in seeming good; prejudice and hypocrisy; loneliness and frustration; psychological studies of mind that have slipped the bond of reality” (44). “The Lottery” illustrates these themes of hypocrisy and blind obedience to ancient rituals that do not guarantee any prosperity yet they are still blindly followed. After the story was published Jackson got thousands of letters in response to the story; however, only thirteen of them were positive comments and all were from friends. All the others criticize her work and her cruel and terrified imagination as they were personal attacks on her as an author. Jackson is very good at conveying her message without directly saying it. Elizabeth Janeway wrote that “вЂ?The Lottery’ makes its effect without having to state a moral about humanity’s need to deflect the knowledge of its own death on a victim. That uneasy consciousness is waked in the reader himself by the impact of the story” (58). The description of how Tessie Hutchinson is stoned to death by the villagers and members of her own family conveys the horror of human cruelty towards one another without ever directly mentioning the evilness of the tradition.

Jackson shows quite a bit of human cruelty in “The Lottery“, as it’s surprising and shocking to think about a human being stoned to death . It takes a humongous inner strength to torture a person like that especially if the person is related to you. In the story Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson is stoned to death. “Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now. A stone hit her on the side of the head” (Jackson 278). This ritual had so much impact on everybody that even the children were involved in this ritual. “The children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles” (272). Janeway also goes on criticizing the point saying Jackson should not use her skills to write something that will terrify the human race but rather to help society. “Miss Jackson’s great gift is not to create a world of fantasy and terror, but rather to discover that existence of the grotesque in the ordinary world” (Janeway, 58).

On the other hand, Jackson’s husband Hyman said that the nature and purpose of his wife’s work were misunderstood and they are not at all personal. He continues on saying that these visions were “a reflection of the sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, more like symbols of concentration camp and the Bomb” (6). Hyman also believes that his wife’s work focuses on the local issues and fears of that decade which are not really obvious and are needed to be revealed. In Embattled Paradise: The American Family in an Age of Uncertainty (1991), the author Arlene Skolnick goes on about the contrasting visions of 1950s that shadowed some light on the peaceful images of family life that seemed to have appeared in situational comedies and popular magazines. However, on the other hand a nightmare vision of American family life is presented in the works of Eugene O’Neil, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee. On the contrary, Jackson depicted her own unique vision of the shallow and dark side of the 1950s and reading this piece gives us a new image of Shirley Jackson as a writer.

Jackson shows a great theme of man over woman which also reflects the time of that era. A literary critique by Fritz Oehlschlaeger says that a conflict between male authority and female resistance is evident throughout. At the beginning of the story boys make “great pile of stone in one corner of the square, вЂ?while the girls stand aside’ talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders are the boys” (45). Jackson distinguishes male and female from the very beginning by showing how the children listen to their father’s orders, but not mother’s: “Soon the women…began to call to their children …Bobby Martin ducked under his mother’s grasping hand and ran, laughing, back to the pile of stones. His father spoke up sharply, and Bobby came quickly and took his place between his father and his eldest brother” (50). Children were taught to listen to male authority in the family structure over their own mothers. Moving along later when the lottery was redone to figure out who would be stoned it was seen that Hutchinson went to his wife and forced away the slip out of her hand. “Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand” (270). However, in terms of the rituals they do not seem to have any discrimination between man and woman, and thus whoever was chosen is stoned to death, in this case Mrs. Hutchinson. Therefore it can be concluded that Jackson uses a great example in reflecting how



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