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In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," what can you infer about the small town based on...

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serenarox2 | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted February 18, 2013 at 7:36 PM via web

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  1. In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," what can you infer about the small town based on the following text?

 

“Soon the men began to gather, surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes. They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed. The women, wearing faded house dresses and sweaters, came shortly after their menfolk. They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands. Soon the women, standing by their husbands, began to call their children, and the children came reluctantly, having to be called four or five times.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 18, 2013 at 9:25 PM (Answer #1)

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This section of text from "The Lottery" indicates a few possibilities. One is that the people gathering for the lottery, the stoning, are so used to this tradition that it is treated with the same nonchalance that they treat other routines. This is why they engage in small talk about planting, taxes, and tractors. Another possibility is that this shows their denial of the event. Rather than face the violence of this ritual and/or be bold enough to confront this atrocious tradition and question whether or not it should continue, they occupy their time with pointless small talk. In other words, they accept that it must be done but ignore the violence of it because they don't want to acknowledge their responsibility in being complicit with allowing it to happen. 

Since their "jokes were quiet," this indicates that at least some of the townspeople were too intimidated to question it and therefore will not question the usefulness of this tradition. Or, the quiet jokes could indicate that these people still treat this ritual with a kind of reverence as if it is a sacred event. This is likely. When Mr. Summers suggests they get a new black box, "no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box." 

Even when Mr. and Mrs. Adams note that some towns have quit the lottery, Old Man Warner's only defense is that there has always been a lottery. 

Use to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery," he added petulantly. 

This probably goes back to some superstition that the lottery would bring a good corn crop. Other than that superstition, he gives no reasonable justification as to why the lottery is used or why it should be continued. This is a clear indication that those who continue to passively accept the ritual of the lottery are either in denial that it is a useless, barbaric ritual or they are too brainwashed that the idea of tradition can not be questioned: both are illogical and unethical behaviors. The small town has a history steeped in traditions and rituals (some superstitious and barbaric) and part of that history is a reluctance to question tradition and authority. 

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