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There have been some news story in recent years of young people in foreign lands going against their parents or the community's religious and marital choices being stoned or in other ways persecuted and punished for the violation. BBC
Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" also points to the predilection for violence that humans have. The children eagerly gather stones, for instance. And Mrs. Delacroix, who has just been talking with Tessie Hutchinson then picks up a stone so large that she needs two hands for it and turns to Mrs. Dunbar telling her, "Come on...Hurry up." These actions are mirrored in the civilized gatherings at sports events where people are friendly, but things can quickly turn violent.
This story shows what happens in a "mob mentality." What are things that some people might do in the relative anonymity of a crowd that they wouldn't do in stark isolation. It may be a silly example, but I think of something like a food fight in the cafeteria. Once the first piece of food is thrown, the crowd of others that in normal circumstances wouldn't think of throwing food, start joining in the mayhem. With that example in mind, consider some of the violent protests and the actions of the protesters we currently see on television coverage in Egypt
Both of these answers do not, for the most part, capture the sheer randomness of what happens in this story. In the Holocaust, the McCarthy years and the stonings, the victims were chosen for a reason. It might not have been a reason that makes sense to us, but it wasn't random the way that lottery is. The witch trials were a little more random, and therefore are the best of the four answers offerred.
I'll add one more -- human sacrifices from ancient days. In the story, the killing is done because of tradition and, seemingly, to ensure good harvests (at least originally). This was a major reason for human sacrifices back in ancient times. It seems likely that those sacrifices were more randomly chosen (like Tessie was) rather than being members of some hated group or "criminals" who were being punished.
There are a few ideas that come to mind. The first is the Holocaust, during which many did nothing while millions of people were killed, sometimes participating enthusiastically in the killing. In "The Lottery," the villagers enthusiastically participated in an annual killing ritual, with no one protesting the horror of it. The second is the stoning of women in a few countries in the Middle East. Stoning to death is a punishment for adultery and in some cases, the punishment for a loss of virginity from rape. It is my undestandin that this is a public event in which people actively participate. Finally, the drowning or hanging of witches early in American history was a ritual killing that engaged the full enthusiasm of the communities in which took place. Of course, "The Lottery" is fiction, so finding exact parallels is not likely.
It is difficult to identify one particular and specific event that represents what happens in Jackson's work. When recognizing that the story was written in 1948, the growing awareness of the Holocaust seems to resonate. In this light, the story is one that helps to bring to light the horrors of what transpired in the Holocaust. The victims of Hitler and the Nazis are the Tessie Hutchinson. Just as she was unable to escape her fate, her last words testifying to the unfairness of the tradition, one can see the victims of the Holocaust as mirroring this condition. At the same time, with the spread and fear of Communism and the growth of the House Unamerican Activities Committee and the new "Red Scare," one can see how the story operates as a critique of the behavior that will grip America of the 1950s. In the first paradigm, the story is a reassuring reminder to America that democratic notions of the good that protect the individuals against the tyranny of the majority are extremely worthwhile pursuit. In the other paradigm, America is the "tyranny of the majority," and the message that the short story offers is a bit more of a stinging rebuke of how the nation is progressing.
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