In "The Lottery," what is the author saying about man vs. society?

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mdelmuro | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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When Shirley Jackson published "The Lottery," only two or three years had passed since the end of World War II and the liberation of the German concentration camps. While this story doesn't necessarily deal with the persecution of a minority as happened in Nazi Germany, it does deal with another question many asked after the war: how did so many people let this happen?

But first, in order to fully explain how "The Lottery" is a story with the primary conflict of "man vs. society," it's important to explore who the protagonist of this story is. In actuality, there is no protagonist. Despite the distaste, many in this village seemed to have for the lottery, no one really seemed to challenge the event. While the narrative followed the Hutchinsons, they didn't really seem to be the primary subject and acted just like everyone else in the village. So that brings up an interesting question: just who is the protagonist of this story?

I'd argue that the reader and the expectations he or she goes in with acts as the story's primary protagonist. So, when we argue that the story in "man vs. society," we're really saying it's the reader vs. the social machine that contributes to one bloody human sacrifice per year.

That brings me back to my original question about the holocaust, how did so many seemingly good people let the killings happen? It challenges the reader to ask himself or herself if he'd stand up to the society and say "enough!" or if he or she would just throw a small stone out of protest or if he or she would not participate, but would give consent via his or her silence.

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