In "The Lottery," what critique of American democracy/capitalism does the story seem to be offering? Use literary elements (foreshadowing, irony, theme, and so on) to develop your response.  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Part III of his 1869 publication On Liberty, philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote about freedom of choice, a cornerstone of democracy, and proffered his warnings. For instance, he wrote that customs can become contrary to their original purpose. One particular point made by Mill is the following:

...though the customs be both good as customs, and suitable to him, yet to conform to custom, merely as custom, does not educate or develop in him any of the qualities which are the distinctive endowment of a human being. The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is the custom, makes no choice.

Continuing, Mill states also that it is "imperative" that human beings should be "free to form opinions, and to express their opinions without reserve." Unless dissent is allowed by the individual, a condition Mill calls the "tyranny of the majority" occurs and democracy with its definitive protection of the human rights of all citizens is debased. 

Such is the case in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," in which community leaders suppress individualism much as capitalistic monopolies overrode individual businesses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Further, German-born contemporary historian Sven Beckert, author of Monied Metropolis, writes of the manipulative activities of economists and banks and businesses that constitute the antithesis of democracy: rule by the elite (Wall Street). In fact, accusations have been made that there has been "legalized gambling" on Wall Street. People point to the credit-default swap begun in the 1990s that resulted in disaster about a decade later. 

In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," the theme of the suppression of the individual opinion and action of a democracy is best depicted by the character of Tessie Hutchinson, who disagrees with the concept of the traditional lottery blindly followed by the majority. First she arrives late; then she objects to the elitist in charge, Mr. Summers:

"You didn't give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn't fair!"

This control by Mr. Summers as perhaps a powerful capitalist is foreshadowed earlier by the information that Mr. Summers is in charge of the dreaded black box. In addition, the "tyranny of the majority" is displayed by Old Man Warner who argues that the village has always had the lottery, and Mrs. Delacroix who badgers Mrs. Hutchinson, "Be a good sport....All of us took the same chance." 

Further, this suppression of the free speech of the adults and the adherence to what has now become blind tradition upheld by the "tyranny of the majority" has created dull generations who ironically do not even recognize that they are controlled by others--"Mr. Graves took the hand of the little boy, who came willingly with him up to the box." Others eagerly gather the stones to throw in a sadistic glee that has consumed their liberty of thought and action: supposedly Tessie's friend Mrs. Delacroix "selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands."

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The Lottery

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