In "The Lottery," do the reactions of the crowd provide a comment on or insights into mob psychology?This story has been used as a study in mass psychology? What reactions of the crowd...

In "The Lottery," do the reactions of the crowd provide a comment on or insights into mob psychology?

This story has been used as a study in mass psychology? What reactions of the crowd are significant?

Expert Answers
jlcannad eNotes educator| Certified Educator

So many insights that it's difficult to catalogue them all.  I'm going to quote one of the first in the field: Le Bon's The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind from the 1800's.

"The disappearance of conscious personality and the turning of feelings and thoughts in a definite direction…"  Look at how the townspeople stop talking about personal concerns (the crop, the dishes) the closer they get to the end of the lottery.

"the fact that they have been transformed into a crowd puts them in possession of a sort of collective mind which makes them feel, think, and act in a manner quite different from that in which each individual of them would feel, think, and act were he in a state of isolation…" Individually, these people to have sympathy and emotions.  The town expresses pride that the young man would draw for his mother, and they care for the injured.  Jackson is very careful to draw them as sympathetic away from the mob, but the sympathy vanishes. 

"it is quite evident that crowds are too impulsive and too mobile to be moral."  Here is where Jackson clearly breaks from the theory of mob mentality.  Most psychologists see a mob as an impulsive beast which reacts without time for thought or reflection.  However, Jackson presents a town that has an entire year to reflect, and yet they go out of their way to avoid looking at or even mentioning that box until it's pulled out for the next year. They choose to surrender to the mob.

Further Reading:
amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For one, Tessie Hutchinson's son is the first to throw a stone at her.  Maybe he understands what that means, maybe not--but he has been taught that when the black marble/stone is chosen, the "winner" gets stones thrown at him/her.  This time around the winner happened to be his mom....and she will not be coming back home.

Tessie's last words as she is being stoned are, "It isn't fair, it isn't right." She refutes and challenges the results of the lottery, and in doing so, Tessie represents one of the few voices of rebellion in a village controlled by tradition and complacency. This is also a very patriarchial community--the men choose first, and then their families.  Tessie's being late to the lottery and also her status as a woman has been read by some critics as the control of men over women in this town.

Before the stoning, the younger members of the community also made challenges about the lottery and suggested that perhaps it should be stopped as it has been in other nearby towns.  The older members of the town upheld the "tradition" of years past and shut the younger citizens down.  The majority of the people believe in the lottery for fertile harvests and have turned a blind eye to what is all participating, they are equally guilty and can not in good conscience just stop performing the annual lottery.

clane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The crowd isn't happy when the lottery comes around each year. The whole town becomes apprehensive about the approaching date. They don't like their annual ritual killing, but they all believe that without it their town would lose its wholesome good fortune.

When the lottery begins on June 27th the whole town is nervous, the energy is floating around in the air. They are wetting their lips, they are exchanging nervous looks. They are talking about other towns who have done away with the lottery so we know that even though they are blindly participating, they don't like what they are doing. They are willing to go along with the crowd even though they know it's wrong.

The biggest reaction that indicated that a mob psychology was present was that they were impassive about seeing Tessie stoned to death, they gladly joined in the ritual ceremony. They didn't listen to her pleas they simply approached the pile of stones and began to throw.

maryw2062 | Student

You have misinterpreted Tessie's rebellion.  When she says, "It isn't fair, it isn't right"  it isn't questioning the Lottery itself or the validity of the ritual.  She's questioning the procedure of the Lottery, as in, "You didn't give him enough time...everyone saw that."   No one in the story truly rebels, and in the end, everyone is a participant in the ritual murder, even though they don't truly understand what they are doing or why they are doing it.