How does the way the villagers speak reveal their characters and what they are going to do?Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the division of characters in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery,"  there are those who represent tradition and the "tyranny of the majority" as John Stuart Mills wrote.  The others are those individuals who dissent from the majority and question the tradition.


Mr. Adams - While Mrs. Adams suggests, "Some places have already quit lotteries," Mr. Adams reaches into the black box and picks out a folded paper, which he holds firmly and stands a little apart from his family, "and looking down at his hand."  It is clear that Mr. Adams acts the patriarch, but he also feels guilty for submitting to the "tyranny of the majority" and to tradition.

Mrs. Delacroix - When Mrs. Hutchinson objects to the procedures, Mrs. Delacroix tells Tessie Hutchinson, "Be a good sport, Tessie."  Later, she "selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and tells Mrs. Dunbar,  "Come on,...Hurry up." Some critics feel Mrs. Delacroix [croix means cross in French] represents the duality of human nature as she speaks with some gentility, but acts sadistically.

Mr. Summers, who speaks very matter-of-factly about the lottery as does Mr. Graves,represents the unthinking who follow the status quo and tradition.

Mr. Martin holds the lottery box while names are drawn.

Old Man Warner - Mr. Warner is appalled by Mrs. Adams's remark that some places have done away with the lottery:

"Nothing but trouble in that....Pack of young fools....Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more....There's always been a lottery....

Mr. Warner, who is resistent to change, represents the "old guard"--"Seventy-seventh year I been in the lottery"-- and those who follow blindly simply because "That's how we have done it" (tradition).

Bill Hutchinson - When he wife questions the method of drawing for the lottery, Bill tells his wife to shut up, bowing to the "tyranny of the majority." 


Mrs. Janey Dunbar - Her attempts are feeble as she wishes things would be over--"I wish they'd hurry"--and she substitutes herself for her husband in drawing lots; however she does make an effort not to participate:

Mrs. Dunbar had small stones in both hands, and she said, gasping for breath, "I can't run at all.  You'll have to go ahead and i"ll catch up with you."

Mrs. Adams  - One of the few who questions the lotterie, Mrs. Adams says, "Some places have already quit lotteries."

Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson - The victim who has the black dot that sentences her to a stoning as a scapegoat, Tessie Hutchinson tries to be forgotten by not appearing at first.  When she does arrive, she excuses herself by saying that she has forgotten what day it is.  She questions Mr. Summers, objecting to the fairness of an arbitrary drawing of lots.  She also questions the custom of married daughters drawing with their husband's family.

After her own husband forces her ticket from her hand that which she will show no one, and Tessie is taken to be stoned, she protests, "It isn't right; it isn't fair."  Tessie represents one of the very few voices of dissent in Jackson's alarming narrative.

epollock | Student

Tessie, this year’s victim, is seen as the problem of the individual (or her family), not of the group. Even Tessie’sconcept of fairness seems self-serving and very underdeveloped; all she means is that she or a member of her family, and not someone else, would be the unlucky one. Her only justification for saying, “It wasn’t fair” is that Mr. Graves “didn’t give [Bill Hutchinson] time enough to choose,” but more time wouldn’t necessarily have spared her or another Hutchinson. Then when, in the second drawing, she turns outto be the unlucky Hutchinson, i.e., this year’s victim, she dies screaming “It isn’tfair.” The village is more interested in the concept of “sportsmanship,” which means accepting defeat gracefully, than in the concept of fairness: “Be a good sport, Tessie,” says Mrs. Delacroix. The implication, some readers may feel, is that a slavish observance of tradition suppresses a search for fairness or justice.

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The Lottery

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