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While Shirley Jackson said little about her reasons for writing "The Lottery, she did comment,
"I hoped by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village, to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives."
Written in the wake of World War II, Jackson's story draws attention also to how certain groups of people or individuals can be targeted as a scapegoat for political and social or other purposes.
One example of a modern scapegoat is Marine Colonel Oliver L. North, who was assigned to the National Security Staff under President Ronald Reagan. He became famous for his association with the Iran Contra Affair. This involved certain clandestine activities that were not approved the Democratic Congress. It began in 1985 when weapons were supplied to Iran, a confirmed enemy of the U.S., in hopes of obtaining the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by Hezbollah terroists. However, after initial transactions were completed and hostages released, the terrorists decided to kidnap more people, and the operation became exposed. Then, in 1986 a Lebanese newspaper exposed this affair, and in 1987 the Congress issued a report that President Reagan bore the ultimate responsibility for the Iran-Contra affair. As the leader of a covert operation, North became the scapegoat for the President and National Security Advisor John Poindexter, who had authorized these activities along with former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. And, although Oliver North was simply following orders, having been involved in clandestine activities that were contrary to the legislation of the Democratic dominated Congress and to official Reagan Administration policy, he became the scapegoat and was convicted of obstructing justice and unlawfully destroying government documents. President Reagan stated that he was unaware of North's activities. Later, the charges against Poindexter and Weinberger were overturned, but Colonel North was charged, and North was disgraced.
In 1992, President Bush did issue a Presidential pardon to North while the charges against Poindexter and Weinberg were dropped prior to this.
With regard to Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," it is difficult to come up with a situation where one person is sacrificed by the community through a lottery system, as occurs in Jackson's short story.
The idea of a "lottery" in modern society is not, however, unusual in itself. Many (most?) states have a lottery system. The proceeds of this kind of "gambling" generally benefit others, such as senior citizens. There is no punishment, as there is with Jackson's story.
If there is anything that seems to be related to "a game of chance," while not an actual lottery, I cannot help but think of the way the IRS decides to audit people, or the way some states, counties, etc., choose people for jury duty. Jury duty is supposed to be seen as a civic responsibility, and those chosen are usually only inconvenienced. However, being audited at random seems to be something where a business or "household" is chosen by chance (not including suspicious tax returns, tips, etc.), and there can be a great deal of confusion, inconvenience and upset for those involved. Still, there is no "death" penalty involved.
Shirley Jackson's husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman (a literary critic) noted that some people felt that the themes in Jackson's stories were somehow connected to a form of neurosis on Jackson's part, but he argued that this was not true, pointing to elements that were reflective of that time—that are still relevant to our society almost sixty years after the story was printed in the 1940s. He mentioned...
'[h]er fierce visions of dissociations and madness, of alienation and withdrawal, of cruelty and terror...'
These are not things found only in fictional novels, or stories of madness or horror: they are a part of the world even today. Whereas a "lottery" with the same outcome as Jackson's story is not in evidence today, the societal themes she included in her writing are.
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