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Tessie Hutchinson is a central character in Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery, and one whose transformation during the course of the narrative is closely tracked, albeit for reasons not immediately apparent. A key detail in understanding Tessie’s behavior throughout The Lottery is Jackson’s emphasis on the legacy of the lottery and, most importantly, the subtle but telling changes that occurred over the years in the process by which the lottery was conducted. Jackson’s narration provides meticulous details of the lottery and of the ways in which its conduct has changed with the times. As she notes early in her story, “Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations.” Old Man Warner serves as the conscience of the town with respect to the traditions and customs associated with the lottery, noting disdainfully how other villages have discontinued the ritual: "Nothing but trouble in that," Old Man Warner said stoutly. "Pack of young fools."
Tessie Hutchinson, initially, appears to have had no reservations about the changes in the process that have transpired over the years. In fact, Jackson emphasizes her nonchalant acceptance of this annual ritual:
“Just as Mr. Summers finally left off talking and turned to the assembled villagers, Mrs. Hutchinson came hurriedly along the path to the square, her sweater thrown over her shoulders, and slid into place in the back of the crowd. ‘Clean forgot what day it was,’ she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly. ‘Thought my old man was out back stacking wood,’ Mrs. Hutchinson went on. ‘and then I looked out the window and the kids was gone, and then I remembered it was the twentyseventh and came a-running.’ She dried her hands on her apron, and Mrs. Delacroix said, ‘You're in time, though. They're still talking away up there’.”
And then, for good measure:
“’Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie.’ Mrs. Hutchinson said. grinning, "’ouldn't have me leave m'dishes in the sink, now, would you. Joe?,’ and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson's arrival.”
The Hutchinson family, Tessie, her husband Bill, and their three children, Bill, Jr., Nancy and Dave, are all a part of this annual process, and they indicate no reservations about their participation, Tessie good-naturedly prompting her husband to do his part when summoned to the center of the square: "’Get up there, Bill,’ Mrs. Hutchinson said, and the people near her laughed.”
The transformation in Tessie’s demeanor, however, begins immediately when her family’s role takes center stage, and it is here where Jackson’s emphasis on the changes that have occurred in the lottery’s conduct assume greater importance. Before, Tessie has exhibited no reservations about these changes, accepting them without comment or concern. Now, however, with the lottery’s ramifications inching closer to her family, she becomes increasingly nervous and, for the first time, concerned about those heretofore irrelevant transformations in the process. Responding to Bill’s selection of a slip of paper from the box that apparently bodes ill for the Hutchinson family, Tessie becomes anxious and voices her objections to the proceedings, only to hear her objections rejected by the others, including by her own husband:
“After that, there was a long pause, a breathless pause, until Mr. Summers. holding his slip of paper in the air, said, ‘All right, fellows.’
For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saving. ‘Who is it?, ‘Who's got it?,’ "’s it the Dunbars?,’ ‘Is it the Watsons?’
Then the voices began to say, ‘It's Hutchinson. It's Bill,’ ‘Bill Hutchinson's got it.’
‘Go tell your father,"’ Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son.
People began to look around to see the Hutchinsons. Bill Hutchinson was standing quiet, staring down at the paper in his hand. Suddenly. Tessie Hutchinson shouted to Mr. Summers. ‘You didn't give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn't fair!’
‘Be a good sport, Tessie."’ Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, ‘All of us took the same chance.’ ‘Shut up, Tessie,’ Bill Hutchinson said.
‘Well, everyone,’ Mr. Summers said, ‘that was done pretty fast, and now we've got to be hurrying a little more to get done in time.’ He consulted his next list. ‘Bill,’ he said, ‘you draw for the Hutchinson family. You got any other households in the Hutchinsons?’
‘There's Don and Eva,’ Mrs. Hutchinson yelled. ‘Make them take their chance!’
‘Daughters draw with their husbands' families, Tessie,’ Mr. Summers said gently. ‘You know that as well as anyone else.’
‘It wasn't fair,’ Tessie said.
Tessie has begun her emotional disintegration. For the first time, she is directly affected by what will emerge as a particularly barbaric ritual. She continues to resist the inevitable implication that a member of her family, possibly even herself, has “won” the lottery. It soon becomes clear that she is frantic to conceal the possibility that she has the winning ticket, holding the piece of paper defiantly behind her. Her husband, Bill “went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal company office. Bill Hutchinson held it up, and there was a stir in the crowd.” Jackson’s story ends with the revelation that the winning lottery ticket signifies the end of one’s life in this macabre process of population control. Tessie continues to object to the fairness of the proceedings, but to no avail:
“Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. ‘It isn't fair,’ she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, ‘Come on, come on, everyone.’ Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him. ‘It isn't fair, it isn't right,’ Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.”
So, during the course of the story, we observe Tessie Hutchinson transform from a “normal” member of this small, tight-knit community, an enthusiastic observer of this annual ritual, into a panicky, horrified participant whose previous acceptance of the process is quickly changed to one of determined opposition.
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