"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson describes an annual ritual in which all villagers of a small town draw a slip of paper out of a box. One slip of paper has a black dot. The family of the villager who draws the black dot is re-entered into a smaller lottery comprised only of the family. The family member who draws this slip of paper is then stoned by the other villagers, presumably to death, although the death itself is not detailed in the story.
This story highlights the potential horrors that tradition and ritual can contain, especially when followed blindly. Jackson makes it clear that over time, some aspects of this ritual have changed. She notes that "so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded," and provides several details as evidence. For instance, there used to be a "ritual salute" performed when each villager drew the slip of paper. This tradition has ended long before the time of the story. The paper slips used in the lottery were originally wooden chips. The original box used to hold the chips had been lost. Jackson also makes a point to note that the replacement box has become worn and in need of replacement. The box is seen as traditional, and therefore the villagers are hesitant to replace it: "no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box... every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything's being done."
These changes in the ritual over time are important for two reasons. First, the amount of changes to the ritual suggests that the townspeople do not remember why they perform this ritual. The meanings of the original box, the ceremonies, and the wood chips are no longer a driving force in their decision to hold the lottery. They simply must stone one of their own each year because that is what tradition dictates. Allowing the ceremony associated with the ritual to fade over time shows the casualness with which the villagers approach the entire ordeal along with their unreflective nature.
The fact that there has been change also provides a glimmer of hope, as it shows that change is still possible. Tessie, the villager who draws the black dot, cries that "it's not fair," and seems to realize how awful this practice is. The remaining possibility of understanding the brutality of the stoning, as well as the fact that change is possible, shows that we do not have to be bound blindly to traditions. Instead, we may let them slip away when they have played out their usefulness.