Do the protagonists in the story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson meet society's expectations?

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herappleness's profile pic

M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Depending on which society we are supposed to use as context, the fact is that the villagers in "The Lottery" comply with the expectations of the society that they, as a community, have built complete with its ridiculous rules and antiquated regulations.

We learn that these villagers are capable of killing even their own family members in cold blood, and without remorse, all for the sake of following a tradition that they cannot even quite describe, understand, nor justify.

at one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory, tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this part of the ritual had been allowed to lapse.

And yet, according to them "there has always been a lottery", and the idea of moving away from this ritual was considered by all as ridiculous. Only once do we hear a complaint and it is with Ms. Hutchinson, when it is ultimately her turn to die. In this fashion, it is arguable that the protagonist is following the expectation of society:she is taking an active part of this ridiculous ritual.

Yet, it is with her last words that she shows non-compliance. By judging the lottery as "unfair" she is no longer an equal part of the group. Now she is a renegade, or a dissenter. It does not matter, for she is to die regardless, but the fact that she, as a character, broke away from the original plan and has begun to think differently is what makes her not meet the expectation.

We could verify this if Jackson had offered more details about how the others died before Mrs. Hutchinson: did they go down complaining? Was she the first to deem the whole ordeal as "unfair"? Only then we can know with more certainty.

On a separate note, if we compare the society of "The Lottery" with our own, there will be no doubt that nobody is complying without the expectations of our society because our society is supposed to lean towards law and order, and not toward debauchery and crime.

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justvik47's profile pic

Victoria Smith | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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The characters in "The Lottery" do not meet the expectations of our society because we expect good deeds to be rewarded and bad deeds to be punished. The main conflict in the story is not within the characters, but within our own expectations. We (as a society) cannot understand the need to "sacrifice" one (apparently innocent) member, and Shirley Jackson makes no attempt to explain the ritual. We (as the reader) are left with unanswered questions about the society's tradition and ritual. This may lead to questions about rituals and traditions in our own society.

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