In "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, what stages of grief does Tessie Hutchinson experience?

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

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There are 5 well-known stages related to grief that are continuously used to help treat people with depression, terminal illness, or for grief and loss therapy. One of the most popular grief and loss models is that proposed by of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, from the book On Death and Dying.

The model is known as DABDA, which is an acronym of each stage:

D- Denial, A- Anger, B-Bargaining, D-Depression and A-Acceptance. In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" the character of Tessie does go through these stages and it is evident from the start.

Denial: At the beginning of the story we learn that everyone in town was outside their homes doing their typical activities, even knowing that someone would be dead that afternoon, being that it was lottery day.

The people of the village began to gather...in this village, where there  were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner

Tessie is not in that group. In fact, when she finally comes out of the house she claims that she had forgotten what day it was. This is denial because it is obvious that this is a very important and traditional event in the village.

Moreover, even her husband was out of the house before her. How could she not have known what was going on that day?

Anger: The stage of anger comes when Tessie's husband picks the lottery paper with the mark that signifies that someone from his family may be the final winner.  At this point,Tessie gets angry expressing her frustration at Mr. Summers accusing him of not giving Tessie's husband time to really pick his paper from the lottery of names.

"I saw you. It wasn’t fair.”

The villagers responded by saying that she was not being a good sport. They are aloof while she was angry. Could it be that she had a premonition of her name being picked? Could it be that she had always been in terrifying fear of being picked and this is what made her be late for the lottery in the first place?

Bargaining: The stage of bargaining occurs when people try to change the outcome of something by creating imaginary deals or making illogical promises even when it is obvious that the outcome will occur. In "The Lottery" Tessie is in fear of winning the "final" lottery, and she insists that more people should be added to the list. She is kindly reminded, however, that the married daughters of the villagers draw with the families of their husbands, therefore, they have already been included. Tess simply cannot try to change the rule.  In Tessie's case, her bargaining was made in hope to alter the possibilities of her name getting picked.

Depression: Arguably the moment when Tessie understands that there is no going back creates a heavy weight in her heart. She has come to understand that her life will be over soon, and that all she can do is complain about the situation. She was visibly affected and nearly defeated.

Acceptance: We cannot ascertain from the story whether Tessie went down easily or with a fight. In the end, she did not attempt to escape, nor took off running, nor attacked her own family for going to kill her. She may have as well accepted that there was no stopping to what was coming. All she could say was that it was not fair. Yet, we know from the previous stages of understanding the process that she did grieve for her own life.

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most commonly used stages-of-grief models is that developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross--denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  In order for a person to go through those stages, or any stages, for that matter, time is an important component, that is, the person must have sufficient time to progress through the stages.  First, the death experienced by the victim in "The Lottery" occurs so quickly that the time required for the experiencing of stages of grief simply doesn't exist.   Second, and more important, to go through stages of grief one must be able to feel grief.  In "The Lottery," for several reasons, grief is not an emotional response that the townspeople experience in connection with the lottery.

We can argue, of course, that anger is an element in Tessie Hutchinson's death, but the anger is not part of grief; rather, it is created by the victim's outrage that she might be the one to "win the lottery and not someone else:

"There's Don and Eva," Mrs. Hutchinson yelled. "Make them take their chance!" "Daughters draw with their husbands' families, Tessie," Mr. Summers said gently. "You know that as well as anyone else."

In this exchange, Tessie Hutchinson, desperately trying to avoid a horrible fate, actually calls for her married daughter to be part of the Hutchinson family lottery group so that Tessie can have a better chance at not being chosen as the horrific lottery's victim.  This cold-blooded, un-motherly, attempt depicts a world turned upside down where a mother wants to place her child in the fatal jeopardy of this lottery.  We might be able to view this as Kubler-Ross's bargaining stage (designed to postpone or avoid one's death but not at the expense of another's death), but, like everything else that occurs in "The Lottery," Tessie's is a perversion of normal human life and relationships.

I indicated above that the stages of grief model requires the ability to feel grief.  One of the themes in "The Lottery" is the power of ritual to reduce humanity to barbarism, and the absence of grief, a powerful human emotion, is at the heart of the ritual.  In other words, for the ritual to exist, there can be no normal human response to the goal of this ritual, which, after all, is the sacrifice of a human being--man, woman, child--for a reason no one even understands anymore.

The stages of grief assume the existence of normal human emotions.  In the world of "The Lottery," the emotions of compassion, love, and grief are absent.

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