This story satirizes a number of social issues, including the reluctance of people to reject outdated traditions, ideas, rules, laws, and practices. What kinds of traditions, practices, or laws might "The Lottery" represent?
Jackson's work examines the issues such as human cruelty, social sanctioning of violence, as well as marginalization leading to victimization. These themes encompass specific traditions, practices, and laws that lie at the heart of the work's meaning. Jackson understands that there is much in way of social relevance lying at the heart of her story:
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 humanity in their own lives.
For Jackson, this social condition of "pointless violence" can be seen in two distinct historical realities. Jackson is straddled between the Holocaust and the Cold War, "the concentration camp and the bomb." The ideas of human beings embracing cruelty so easily are evident in both contexts, as well as the need to target individuals and scapegoat them as "the other" to be removed. The use of violence as a way to accomplish this can also be noted. Jackson is making a point to note how historical realities- one past in the Holocaust and one of the present in the Cold War- bear similarity to the traditions, practices, and laws featured in "The Lottery."
There might not be one particular "outdated" element that Jackson is targeting. Part of what drives Jackson is that the lessons of the past are not being understood in the context of the present:
Her fierce visions of dissociations and madness, of alienation and withdrawal, of cruelty and terror, have been taken to be personal, even neurotic fantasies. Quite the reverse: They are a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the bomb.
Jackson writes the story in a time period that should have learned the lesson of violence, targeting, and marginalization with the Holocaust. The distress of the concentration camp was not enough, for Jackson understands that there is an immediate progression in the embrace of "the bomb" with the Cold War. The same destruction in one is something that Jackson sees in the other. This is why there is not one specific set of "traditions, practices, or laws" that Jackson's work represents. Rather, it is a social condition that embraces cruelty through violence and targeting through scapegoating that she sees as something which must be criticized. These thematic notions are the threads which have run through the past. Sadly enough, Jackson sees them running through the present and future, making her work universal in its message and appreciation.