In the story "The Lottery", by transfering a crude, ancient ritual into a modern setting, is the author saying something about human nature and human society?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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It is certain that, in the story "The Lottery", Shirley Jackson exposes the reality of human nature: that violence, cruelty, injustice, and even savagery, can happen behind the closed doors of any community, and of any home, from any walk of life. 

In the story, Tessie Hutchinson is a regular housewife who is late for the celebration of the ritual of the lottery; a common practice that  has been traditionally practiced throughout time within her local community. At no time is the reader warned about the morbidity of the ritual, which consists on the stoning of a random community member. However, more emphasis is placed in describing the normalcy of the community itself.

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.

The reader learns how each member of the community has a specific role, how the children play 

they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play.

and how, after the lottery is conducted, people will still have enough time left in the day to return home in time for supper. Jackson basically writes the story of an every-day and nearly-idyllic town which resembles suburbia. Within it, the horrible practice of the lottery is conducted without question, regardless of the violence that comes with it. In all, the citizens have become numb to it, and they have accepted it as an everyday occurrence. 

Like modern society, we too have become numb and desensitized to crime and violence. The combination of everyday news and the influence of the media, which uses violence as a form of entertainment, exposes us so much to crime that one may wonder if this is the reason behind the increase in domestic violence cases, child abuse, and other forms of violent acts. 

Nevertheless, Shirley Jackson juxtaposes the normality that can be felt and cherished in the village to the dark, violent practice which it continues to celebrate. Clearly this is a message that tells how human nature can be capable of both things: of tender kindness as well as of despairing evil. 


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