In the story "The Lottery," what are the rules when someone can't attend the lottery?

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Shirley Jackson makes much, in the first few paragraphs of this story, of the fact that whatever original rules may have been attached to the lottery carried out in this town, many of them have been lost or half-forgotten. The people remember only the parts they want to remember, such...

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Shirley Jackson makes much, in the first few paragraphs of this story, of the fact that whatever original rules may have been attached to the lottery carried out in this town, many of them have been lost or half-forgotten. The people remember only the parts they want to remember, such as the swearing in of the officiant. They want to use the black box which replaced the original box, because they feel there is a sense of continuity there, but they now use slips of paper instead of pieces of wood, and the officiant is no longer required to parade among the people as he once did before drawing.

The "rules" for what happens when someone cannot attend the lottery, then, seem to have been retained for years and are understood by those present, but they are not spelled out to us as such. When Clyde Dunbar is unable to attend, his wife has attended for him. This seems to be the rule, unless there is an adult son who can take the place of his father instead. It is suggested that a boy of sixteen is not yet an adult for this purpose. The "Watson boy," meanwhile, is clearly old enough to be drawing for his mother and himself.

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When Mr. Summers gets ready to start the first drawing he asks:

Anybody ain't here?"

"Dunbar." several people said. "Dunbar. Dunbar."

Mr. Summers consulted his list. "Clyde Dunbar." he said. "That's right. He's broke his leg, hasn't he? Who's drawing for him?"

Everybody knows everybody and everything about everybody in this small town. Clyde Dunbar's absence shows that everybody has to participate in the lottery and that somebody must draw for anybody who is unable to attend. We do not know what would have happened if Dunbar's wife had drawn the black spot for her husband. No doubt the entire village would have had to go out to his house and stone him to death while he was lying in bed or sitting on his front porch.

This is a strongly patriarchal society. That is a dominant theme through Shirley Jackson's story. Mr. Summers doesn't even like the idea of having Mrs. Dunbar participate in the first round. He asks:

"Don't you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?"

"Horace's not but sixteen vet." Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. "Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year." 

The men run the whole show. When poor Tessie Hutchinson is finally selected as this year's victim, or scapegoat, it is two men, Steve Adams and Old Man Warner, who take the lead in urging the others to stone her to death. There is a feeling in this story that if the women in the town weren't so subservient to the men, they would insist on putting an end to this senseless lottery. When the Hutchinson household is selected in the first round, a young girl in the crowd whispers:

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

She whispers because she is afraid to speak up. This is the only indication of any human sympathy for anybody. When Tessie is selected to be stoned, her husband and children turn against her, along with everybody else in the group of about three hundred people. If the lottery is ever discontinued, it will be because the women get together and insist upon it. Human feelings will prevail over male tradition, male authority, and blind superstition.

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