Does "The Lottery" suggest that people are innately violent or that their behaviour is learned?
Although the behavior to hold the lottery each year is learned, as part of the culture and tradition of this society, I would say that the people of the town are very violent.
Mrs. Delacroix, a friend of Tessie Hutchinson, who speaks to her when she arrives late for the lottery, is the person who tells Tessie to not be upset about her forgetfulness. But then when the victim is chosen, Mrs. Delacroix picks up the heaviest stone, so heavy, that she can barely lift it. This is a clear example of a violent tendency.
Additionally, Bill Hutchinson yells at his wife for complaining about the selection process being rushed.
"When Tessie questions the method of drawing, he says, "Shut up, Tessie"; he also forces the slip of paper with the black spot on it out of her hand and holds it up in front of the crowd."
This story is an expression of the dual nature of humanity. The fact that individuals can be both good and evil at the same time. The people of the town are eager and capable of murdering a member of their community with cruelty and indifference. Stoning is a violent way to die.
There is one individual who feels repelled by the process, Mrs. Dunbar, she does not rush to stone Tessie.
"Mrs. Dunbar had small stones in both hands," (Jackson)
"The Lottery" clearly suggests that their violent behavior is learned. What is key to the story is how the author brings the reader to that conclusion. She does it through the children. The children are the ones to collect the rocks on lottery day, because that's what the children do. After the ticket has been drawn, the children are put in place first, and they know what to do. This is the result of being taught. The most powerful images the author gives the reader of learned violent behavior takes place through young Davy Hutchison's eyes. First, he doesn't understand the procedure of the lottery and has to be helped by an adult, and secondly he is handed pebbles by an adult to join in the stoning of his own mother. Davy learns a behavior before he is able to comprehend it, thus ultimately conforming to the behavior without questioning it.
The story suggests that the violent behavior of the people is learned. In the story, it is tradition to sacrifice (for the good of the crops) a member of the community each year.
At times, members of the murderous group begin to gossip; the conversation turns to other villages that have decided to no longer hold the yearly lottery. This information tells the reader that violence is not innate, and that ignorance and a typically human fear of change are the real reasons for the violence of the people.