Shirley Jackson seems to have an agenda in "The Lottery." What do you think she is driving at? Consider each of the following interpretations and, looking at the story, see if you can find any evidence for it. Then decide which seems to be the best interpretation presented, and explain why. Which interpretation seems to have the most evidence to support it? Does having the most evidence make that interpretation the best or most believable? Why or why not? 1. Jackson takes a primitive fertility rite and playfully transfers it to a small town in North America. 2. Jackson, writing her story soon after World War II, indirectly expresses her horror at the Holocaust. She assumes that the massacre of the Jews was carried out by unwitting, obedient people, like these villagers. 3. Jackson is satirizing our own society, in which men are selected for the army by lottery. 4. Jackson is just writing a memorable story that signifies nothing at all.

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Let us go through the four possibilities. The fourth option, that Jackson is simply writing a memorable story that signifies nothing at all, is unlikely. First, authors seldom write stories that signify nothing. Second, the story is clearly a critique of adhering to destructive traditions.

The first option, that Jackson...

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Let us go through the four possibilities. The fourth option, that Jackson is simply writing a memorable story that signifies nothing at all, is unlikely. First, authors seldom write stories that signify nothing. Second, the story is clearly a critique of adhering to destructive traditions.

The first option, that Jackson merely "playfully" transplants a primitive fertility rite to a New England village, falls apart as we think about the word "playfully." There is nothing playful about how the subject—stoning an innocent victim—is treated. The piles of rocks the young boys gather is ominous, the splintered black lottery box that nobody wants to replace is creepy, and the ending, with the protesting Tessie Hutchinson being stoned, is straight out of a horror story as her friends and neighbors Mrs. Delacroix and Mrs. Dunbar turn on her with deadly intent:

Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar. "Come on," she said. "Hurry up." ...

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

The second possibility, that Jackson is making a commentary on the mindless obedience that led to the holocaust, is more plausible, but not without problems. Admittedly, anti-semitism has a long history, as does the lottery in this story, which we know has been going since before anyone in the village was born. Further, the holocaust was about scapegoating a particular group of people as evil and using that as an excuse to justify killing them. The Jews were used as scapegoats, it is true, just as Tessie is; but Tessie is not part of a despised group. She is an honorable part of the community, the equal of every one else, until she draws the wrong lottery slip. The story is not about genocide or the eradication or persecution of a particular group that the village has decided is evil but killing one of their own.

This makes the third option the most plausible: that Jackson is satirizing or poking fun (in a grim way) at the draft lottery. In 1917, the US government registered millions of men for the draft, then used a lottery system to determine which men would be called up first. In 1940, during the peacetime draft meant to prepare the US for involvement in World War II, a lottery was again instituted to determine who would be drafted.

The draft lottery therefore had a fairly long tradition when Jackson wrote her story, as it had been used in two wars. Unlike the holocaust, it did not target a despised minority but chose draftees from healthy, upstanding individuals living in the heart of the community, just as Jackson's lottery chooses victims from the heart of the community, such as Tessie Hutchinson. Like Jackson's lottery, the war drafts could be understood as unfair: why should random chance determine that some would live and some would be chosen to die in battle? Also, in Jackson's lottery, the old, such as Old Man Warner, seem to impose lotteries on the younger people, like the Adams, who are caught up in a tradition they have little say over:

"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."

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...."

Likewise, in real life, it was often older people passing the draft legislation that impacted younger lives.

The story critiques traditions that hurt insider members of the community, making it closer to a critique of the draft lottery than any of the other options.

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