In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”  how does the story use the theme “The danger of blindly following tradition”

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shirley Jackson uses her short story "The Lottery" as a thinly-veiled warning about the dangers of blindly following tradition.  Drenched in horror, the premise of the story depicts a small wholesome town full of kindly folk, who gather once a year to draw slips to decide who will be stoned to death in a ritual sacrifice game. 

The villagers stoically back the tradition of the lottery throughout the story, as Jackson provides details to show their support.  For example, they do not even want to change the accoutrement's of the lottery, like the black box, which is so battered it should be replaced, "but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box."

Jackson also reveals that the villagers' traditional mind-set is closed even to considering discarding the lottery:

"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..."

Jackson uses the brutal lottery as a terrifying example of when tradition overrides common sense and decency.  There is nothing wrong with following a tradition; however, tradition merely for tradition's sake can lead to the worst kinds of injustice. 

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Every year in June, the residents of a small New England town gather for the lottery. We know this is an old tradition because Old Man Warner says “There’s always been a lottery.” The lottery is based on an ancient superstition summed up in a saying: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”

We soon learn, however, that the lottery is a barbaric ritual in which an unfortunate person is stoned to death by the other residents. This is done to ensure a good harvest. Given that the story is set in the 20th century, one would expect the townspeople would know that performing a human sacrifice is not the way to guarantee a good harvest. Science is a better route to good crop yields. Carrying on this  outdated tradition blindly year after year simply causes unnecessary misery and suffering. A person dies each year for no reason and children are potentially left without a parent. Jackson's story invites us to think more broadly about putting human happiness ahead of traditions. 

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The Lottery

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