In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" In what way might Tessie be considered a scapegoat?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The “scapegoat” concept of one living being standing for a larger collectivity goes back to ancient times; a real goat was sacrificed on behalf of an entire community. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this ritual appears in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus when the community sent a goat into the wilderness to expiate all their sins. Similarly, but more generally indicating one’s obligation of faith in divine power, the phrase “sacrificial lamb” is used, with the lamb further emphasizing the innocence of the being that is given up. For the ritual to be considered effective, there must be a pre-existing belief that some negative aspect of the community exists, one person’s death or expulsion can symbolize that of all the others, and collective willingness to inflict the fate onto that individual.

In “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson does not mention a connection to a prior blame or sin. The sacrifice is connected to agricultural fertility. The stoning is timed according to the calendar as the crops are starting to mature. Although one individual is ultimately selected, the process has two steps. One family is initially chosen from all the town’s families, and then one member of the family is chosen. In the year considered in the story, that individual was Tessie.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Tessie is considered a scapegoat in "The Lottery" in every possible way but personal reasons.  At the lottery, Tessie arrives cheerfully late, but the crowd makes room for her and everyone seems to be very accepting.  In this small town, everybody knows everybody. 

Tessie becomes a scapegoat, because she is the unlucky lottery winner.  How quickly the townspeople pick up their rocks!  Mrs. Delacroix "selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands" to stone to death the woman with whom only minutes before she had been making small talk.  In this small town, there is a real sense of "I'm glad it's not me" that leads the villagers to accept Tessie's fate so willingly.  Even Tessie, before her family was chosen, calmly accepted the proceedings of the lottery.  Had her name not been chosen, she too would have participated.  The lottery is merely the mechanism in which the town's scapegoat is chosen. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial