Is the image of the scapegoat appropriate for "The Lottery"?

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

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The image of the scapegoat is of course an important image in terms of understanding the beliefs and behaviour of this apparently modern day and normal village. The way in which they select Tessie Hutchinson and have selected one of their members to symbolically bear their sins and be punished for it as a blood sacrifice to ensure good crops and a bountiful harvest is reminiscent of Old Testament times and a much more brutal and savage society.

Yet, if we think about this imagery more deeply, we might question the appropriateness of such an exchange. To what extent can one individual bear the sins of the rest of their people, and how can the ritual killing of that person really expiate the sins of the rest? Clearly, Jackson is presenting us with a ritual that might have been understandable a long time ago, but is shocking because of the way that we find it in our modern day times. There is a sense in which Jackson is deliberately juxtaposing this ancient ritual with contemporary civilisation to force us to question the very notion of tradition and ritual. Surely the symbol of the scapegoat is meant to provoke us to think about the kind of traditions that we still blindly follow, as savage as they may be. Slavish adherance to ritual is what is being criticised in this story.


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