In "The Lottery," how does the symbol of the lottery ritual have an impact on how the reader, and characters feel about the humanity and worth of Tessie Hutchinson?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is perhaps one of the most chilling stories I have ever read. It is so disturbing precisely because of the way in which Jackson presents us with a seemingly innocent summer day scene with some kind of lottery that we think is going to be a good thing. However, as we read on, and especially as the finale unfolds before our disbelieving eyes, we realise the much darker significance of the lottery ritual, and how it symbolises the power of tradition and how that power can overwhelm our humanity to cause us to act in horrific and heinous ways.

Part of the key to unlocking the significance of the lottery comes from Old Man Warner, the representative of tradition. Note what he says about the lottery and its importance:

Used to be a saying about "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon." ... There's always been a lottery...

The saying that Old Man Warner remembers indicates that this lottery ritual is actually a form of blood sacrifice. The villagers select one of their own to be stoned communally so that their blood can be emptied as a kind of offering to ensure good crops. The way that Old Man Warner talks about the importance of tradition and sticking to it points towards the importance of tradition in our lives, and the way that our blind adherence to it causes us to overlook the humanity of another fellow human. What is particularly disturbing is the way that Tessie Hutchinson is stoned by people that know and love her. Even her son, Davy Hutchinson, is given a few pebbles to stone his mother with. The decision of the lottery suddenly makes the rest of the villagers look at Tessie as being inhuman and worthy of death. She moves from being one of them to being an outcast who has been selected to die.


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