What are some themes that go with the story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson?

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pirateteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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"The Lottery" deals with several important themes throughout the short story and offer Jackson's insight into the dangers of human nature.

1. The dangers of blindly following traditions or customs.

Numerous times throughout the story the narrator mentions that the people do not remember how the lottery began, that older people believe the lottery has changed over the years, and that people are eager to just get it over with with little ceremony or reflection.

When Mr. Summers brings out the black box for the lottery, the narrator mentions that though this is not the original box, it is old and Mr. Summers often hints that it should be replaced; however, the townspeople shy away from changing the box or anything having to do with the tradition of the lottery.

"no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box"

Old Man Warner and Mr. Adams discuss that some towns (and the younger people in them)  are contemplating doing away with the lottery.  The men criticize this idea and the break from tradition it represents.

"They do say," Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, "that over in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery."

Old Man Warner snorted. "Pack of crazy fools," he said. "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live hat way for a while. Used 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.

While no one wants to "win" this lottery, no one is willing to break the tradition of it.  Jackson cautions the reader to avoid being so blinded by traditions that they end up not understanding what they're doing or doing harm to others simply because it's always been done that way.  While the town embraces their 77 years of tradition, them overlook that it has resulted in 77 deaths.

2.  The violent and cruel nature of people.

One the reader realizes that the "winner" of the lottery is going to be stoned, they barely have time to recover before realizing that the town has qucikly begun gathering rocks, stones, and pebbles.  Though the town may not know how the lottery began, they know when to bring in the rocks.

Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar.

Despite the pleas and cries of Mrs. Hutchinson, her friends and neighbors begin throwing the stones and rocks at her.  The most violent part was when the towns made sure that her youngest son, little Davey, also had stones (small pebbles) to throw at his mother.  The mob has abandoned a sense of right and wrong for their misguided traditions.  These are not criminals, but the upright people of the town murdering this woman, this mother, with rocks.

Jackson looks at the dangers of human violence especially in relation to mob mentality.

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