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We cannot know what was in Shirley Jackson's mind as she wrote "The Lottery," but we do know something about the times in which she wrote the story. The story was published in the period right after World War II, the period during which the world came to understand that millions of people had been put to death in concentration camps, camps often located near quaint little villages. The people in those villages often denied knowing what was going on in the camps, or were too fearful to say anything. It is possible that this was on Jackson's mind as she wrote the story.
Certainly, one of the themes of the story is that people will participate in an action, no matter how heinous that action might be, and still seem to be upstanding citizens within their culture. How terrible does something have to be for us to refuse to conform? Can a ritual or tradition be so powerful it can persuade otherwise "decent" people to participate in wrongdoing? These are the kinds of questions that are likely to have been on Jackson's mind as she wrote. What conclusion do you think she drew?
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Jackson's point of view is conveyed through her belief that violence exists in ordinary, everyday society, where regular people live. The violence that resides within the confines of small towns all over the country, Jackson is drawing our attention to this type of problem. She is making a broad statement about humanity and the potential it has to be indifferent and downright evil.
She sets the story of ritual annual murder in a small town to make it more shocking.
"Jackson herself, who throughout her life said little about the meaning behind or the circumstances surrounding the story, noted: "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 humanity in their own lives."
From a feminist perspective, Jackson is making a statement about the domination of men in society. She depicts the town as dominated by men, the village is definitely a patriarchy.
In addition, Shirley Jackson also wants the reader to recognize something about the underlying character of all people, no matter what they seem to be on the outside. Most of the characters that she presents are good, seemingly upstanding citizens, however, each one of them no matter their age (from little Davy Hutchinson to Old Man Warner) and no matter their profession (from housewife to head of household) has an inherent evil side lurking inside of them that takes pleasure in someone else’s pain, or in this case pleasure in taking part in someone’s murder.
I think the point is that anyone can succumb to the dictates of tradition, no matter how upstanding they are in their communities. In this short story, the townspeople for the most part had no moral problem with the ritualistic murder. As the story says, "lottery in june, corn be coming soon". It wasn't until Tessie Hutchinson lost the lottery that she had an objection to the awful practice. The people felt that they had to make some sort of yearly sacrifice in order to continue receiving God's blessing. While there is no clear Biblical foundation for this practice, nor do the people even remember when the tradition was put into place, they do remember the rocks, as the novel states. They understand that basic idea that someone is stoned to death once a year on the same day. However, no one questions it, and people prefer not to think of it until the day it arrives. It's just one of those unpleasant things that people try to avoid thinking about until they're faced with it. Her point, I think, is that by not questioning evil practices, those who allow them silently are just as guilty as those who perpetuate them.
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