What comment does the story "The Lottery" make concerning society?
The main comment on society made by "The Lottery" is on accepted moral values and their purpose. When the reader discovers what the lottery means, it is horrifying, but throughout the text the characters all take it in stride:
"They do say," Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, "that over in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery."
Old Man Warner snorted, "Pack of crazy fools," he said. "...There's always been a lottery."
(Jackson, "The Lottery," classicshorts.com)
The tradition is so ingrained that few think to question it, and the fear of losing the harvest, regardless of its superstitious fallacy, is strong enough to keep people performing the lottery year after year. Things that are unthinkable to one culture are commonplace to others; although no town in the United States practices ritual stoning to ensure a good harvest, similar rituals have been performed by cultures around the world throughout history. When society accepts something, it is difficult to foster change, and those who do often pay a heavy price for their rebellion.
The setting of the lottery is within a village that comes across as peaceful and civilized. However, the actual act of stoning another human being to death is extremely violent.
In this story, you have members of a small community who blindly follow a rigid system in which one innocent villager will be stoned to death a year. Instead of standing up against the wrong of such an action, the villagers blindly follow the rules and traditions. In a sense, they are like "sheep". They cower and stay with their herd for protection.
It seems that Jackson is insinuating that regardless of whether a person is a member of a seemingly peaceful and civilized society, violence can take place anywhere and at anytime and may be committed by the most ordinary of people.
Jackson also seems to insinuate that fear of standing out from the crowd can cause people to do unspeakable things, such as letting violence occur in front of them, especially if it means that they will remain safe. They can be like "sheep" and hide behind others and follow the crowd. This is their way of trying to survive. Yet, it is quite ironic since any one of these people might be the one who is chosen to be stoned next.
The roles people are taught to play in society seem to be embedded deeply within them, so much so that they are willing to sacrifice the life of another if it means to protect them. As a result, there is a loss of empathy and having empathy for another human being is what separates man from animal. It allows man to feel vulnerable, but in a society as the one Jackson portrays, feeling vulnerable can lead to your death. It is better to stifle it and simply accept social norms.