"The Lottery" was published in 1948, just after World War II. What other cultural or historical events, attitudes, institutions, or rituals might Jackson be satirizing in this story?

One could argue that Jackson might be satirizing the conformist attitudes of Americans during the post-war Red Scare. Although McCarthy had yet to launch his anti-communist witch-hunts, there was still a lot of hysteria in the air, and many Americans went along unthinkingly, just like the villagers in the story go along with the lottery.

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Written three years after World War II, Jackson's "The Lottery" can be read as satirizing the high levels of conformity that existed in American society. Wars demand a higher level of social conformity than during times of peace, and millions of citizens are conditioned to accept higher levels of violence and to sacrifice themselves in the interests of the larger good of preserving the state. During World War II, for example, American society was forced to accept the internment of the Japanese civilian population in this country for fear that they be spies. In normal times, such interference in individual self determination would be highly unacceptable. Likewise, many families had to sacrifice their family members to the war effort. After the war, high levels of conformity continued to be demanded as the Cold War emerged, leading to exaggerated fears of a communist takeover in this country. In 1947, for example, President Truman demanded loyalty oaths from government workers.

In "The Lottery," the citizens of the village, young and old, are expected to conform to social norms and be willing to sacrifice themselves for what is perceived as the larger good of the community. Villagers gather each year to randomly select one of their members to be stoned to death to insure a good crop harvest, an example of sacrificing one individual to service the collective good, even of this ritual killing is outdated and barbaric.

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When “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson was published in 1948, a wave of anti-communist hysteria was in full swing in the United States. The outbreak of the Cold War had hardened American attitudes towards the ideology adopted by the Soviet Union.

Even though the number of active communists in the United States was minuscule, large numbers of Americans believed that there were "Reds" lurking around every corner, ready and waiting to subvert the nation from within. This widespread fear of communism would be ruthlessly exploited for political gain by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who would launch his anti-communist witch-hunts in 1950.

But even before McCarthy began his anti-communist crusade, many Americans unthinkingly went along with the idea that communism was everywhere and that everything must be done to root it out, irrespective of the damage that it would do to people's lives.

One can see a parallel here with the institution of the lottery in Jackson's story. Even though the lottery is a thoroughly evil cultural practice that leads to the deaths of innocent people, the villagers blithely go along with it without a moment's hesitation. Caught in the grip of superstition, they have come to believe that this annual ritual of self-sacrifice is essential to ensure a good harvest.

By the same token, many Americans in the immediate post-war era believed just as passionately that in defeating communism it was necessary to abrogate long-standing constitutional rights and liberties. A mindless conformism took hold in which people simply went along with the dominant prejudices without giving the matter serious consideration. On a much more serious level, this is precisely what happens in “The Lottery,” with tragic consequences.

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Aside from the horrors committed during the Holocaust in its systematic killing of Jews and other Nazi prisoners of war, one of the most salient crimes against humanity was that of dehumanization. The war experiments committed by the Nazis, and the killing of people whom they did not see as "suitable" to be alive, are clear indications of two things: a) the horrific capacity of the human brain to compartmentalize even inhuman acts (that would be the Nazis) and, b) the fact that there are people who are physically able to commit these crimes "as told."

In Shirley Jackson's story "The Lottery" we see evidence of these two facts. First, the compartmentalization of inhumanity is evident in the villagers, who take the stoning tradition as a matter of fact. They talk about it, remember it, and even have a paltry historical background of it that they admit to not really knowing about in its entirety. Yet they have embraced this sadistic practice and consider it a part of their identity as a village. 

The actual act of engaging in the stoning is another evidence of what Shirley Jackson may have wanted to reflect in her writing about society. By the time the story was written in June of 1948, three years after WWII was over, the world had already engaged in world wars twice. People were told to kill, and kill they did. In the same fashion, the villagers also kill one another every year, because that is what tradition tells them to do. 

While knowledge of the Holocaust itself did not come to light until years later in its entire detail, it is clear that Shirley Jackson had a preoccupation with the human capacity for violence. Moreover, the social worry of whether a bigger or worse war would ever happen again, and of the consequences of such violence, certainly left many rattled as is evident in much of the literature of the period.

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Shirley Jackson's short story seems to be the most critical of small town customs, as depicted by her use of a small American town that hosts a brutal stoning.  The village that Jackson uses in the story bears no name or state, making it eerily anonymous, as if the horrific behavior spurred by group conformity could happen anywhere in the United States.  Although her story does not specifically condemn any particular custom or institution, her story does warn of the dangers that conformity and acceptance can bring. 

In 1948, most of the world, the United States included, was still trying to come to terms with the staggering violence of World War II, including the genocide of the Holocaust and the casualties of the first atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Jackson's story brings the violence close to home in a particularly ugly and graphic fashion to illustrate the dangers of a casual or even routine acceptance of violence.

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As noted, "The Lottery" is comparable to the events of World War II, especially in the unthinking continuation of customary persecution (e.g., the German abuses against Jews in the Holocaust). Among the other historical events to which Shirley Jackson may be alluding are the Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials of the 1690s and the Spanish Inquisition, which was at its peak in the period between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Jackson may also be reflecting on more recent American efforts to enforce conformity. In her own time in the United States, by 1948, the House Un-American Activities Committee had been convened as a regular, standing committee within the US Congress. The HUAC hearings had resulted in the blacklist of numerous writers and performers, such as the Hollywood Ten, some of whom were imprisoned. Although this persecution of creative people for their political positions seemed a new postwar development, it was a continuation of anti-Communist crusades going back several decades.

It is debatable whether the story should be considered a "satire"; in treating a subject, a satire will usually exaggerate the elements of this subject to an absurd degree in order to point out its absurdity. While the events of the short story are certainly exaggerated (in its cruelty and its arbitrariness), the subject that it is satirizing is not strictly clear.

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After The New Yorker published "The Lottery" in 1948, causing outrage throughout much of America, Shirley Jackson remained silent about the actual meaning of the story. Today, the common assumption is that the German population's acceptance of the Nazi death camps served as inspiration for her story (why would otherwise decent people commit such a heinous act?). Critics also contend that the village in the story is modeled after her hometown of North Bennington, Vermont, a place where Jackson commented on the anti-Semitism her father faced there.

However, in an article for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1948, Jackson provided a clear explanation for the story:

Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.

This idea of "pointless violence and general inhumanity" in ordinary people's lives could be seen in many historical events during this time period. In the rural South, the public often treated the lynchings of innocent black Americans as a time to gather and celebrate. During World War II, a plurality of Americans approved of the internment of Japanese Americans in camps. Jim Crow laws and segregation were entrenched in the South at this time. 

Overall, the idea that "The Lottery" refers to a specific event really limits the strength of the story. The story can be broadly interpreted as a case study of how people, when surrounded by tradition and group pressure to do something, generally follow whatever the norm may be.

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This is an interesting question!

One of the major cultural institutions this story could be satirizing and commenting on is the military draft. The United States instituted the draft in 1940, and 50 million American men registered for the draft by the end of World War II. While there are major differences between the two rituals, both involve a major element of chance, social responsibility, and the likelihood of death. Because so many families had experienced this, this would have loomed large in their minds.

Of course, there are older traditions of human sacrifice. Many ancient cultures used human sacrifice, and, like the mention of "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon," these sacrifices were often intended to please the gods, and/or as an exchange or payment for future good favor, like good crops or success in war.

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