In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," what do the characters in this particular community say about the lottery in nearby communities?What do they say about the way it is being practiced?

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The townspeople in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" are aware that the lottery is being modified or abandoned elsewhere. Their remarks display a vague sense of uneasiness at changing times, and lend the village an insular, or even besieged, ambiance.

The spokesman for tradition is Old Man Warner ("he who warns": many names are symbolic). Told that the north village is thinking of giving up its lottery, he responds with disdain:

Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more....First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns.

In other words, the lottery certifies the village is civilized. For him, it is the village, and in the face of change and outside attack, needs to be upheld mindlessly:

"There’s always been a lottery,” he added petulantly. “Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody.”

Thus, Warner's comments link neglect for the lottery elsewhere with social change in the village itself. Outsiders who give it up are a "pack of young fools," he adds (my emphasis). Later, when Tessie Hutchinson complains, Warner remarks,

“It’s not the way it used to be,” Old Man Warner said clearly. “People ain’t the way they used to be.”

The remarks about the decline of the lottery elsewhere thus reinforce the oppressive feeling that permeates the village and heighten the tragedy of Tessie's death by questioning its necessity and inevitability.

Read the study guide:
The Lottery

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