How do the townspeople feel about making changes to the lottery?    

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is hard to tell how most of the townspeople feel about making changes to the annual lottery. The only person who expresses a decisive opinion is Old Man Warner, who wants everybody to hear him defend this traditional event. Mr. and Mrs. Adams both rather timidly show they might be thinking their town should do what other towns are doing.

"They do say," Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, "that over in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery."

"Some places have already quit lotteries." Mrs. Adams said.

Old Man Warner snorted. "Pack of crazy fools," he said. "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live hat way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery," he added petulantly. "Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody."

Most people seem afraid to express any opinion about the lottery. They just go along with it year after year and hope that their family will not get chosen in the first drawing or that they themselves will not get chosen in the second. When the Hutchinson household gets selected in the first drawing, one young girl is heard above the sudden silence:

A girl whispered, "I hope it's not Nancy," and the sound of the whisper reached the edges of the crowd.

The young people care nothing about this ceremony. They don't understand it. But they are intimidated by their parents and all the other older people. If the lottery is ever to change it will have to be the young people who change it. That is what Old Man Warner is fearing when he says: "Listening to the young folks." This girl's whispering, "I hope it's not Nancy" is an indication of a growing feeling of resistance, an emergence of "felt values" of pity and affection over the blind superstition expressed vociferously and authoritatively by Old Man Warner without a challenge.

The condition of the black box symbolizes the general feelings about the lottery itself.

Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything's being done. The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.

There is a very good reason why the people do not want a new black box and why they do not want to pay any money to have one built. If they were to acquire a new black box it would be tantamount to saying that they all support the lottery and expect it to continue for as long as the old box lasted. Instead, they are all willing to watch the old black box deteriorate and would probably be happy to see it crumble into kindling.

If Old Man Warner is an extreme example of the pro-lottery sentiment, then Tessie Hutchinson can be considered an extreme example of the anti-lottery sentiment. Once she has been selected as this year's victim, she sees clearly what an ignorant, unnecessary, cruel, and unjust affair this lottery really is. 

"Listen, everybody," Mrs. Hutchinson was saying to the people around her.

 

But nobody is listening to her. She is no longer a member of the community but an outsider, a non-person.

"It isn't fair, it isn't right," Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.

It is only Tessie who expresses the truth about the lottery in plain words. It isn't fair. It isn't right. Perhaps most of the people, except for that pigheaded Old Man Warner, know it isn't fair, it isn't right. But something--superstition, tradition, fear of public opinion, mob psychology, plain ignorance, or whatever--keeps them participating and prevents them from expressing their feelings in words.