In "The Lottery," what do the villagers mean by fairness?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the twisted logic that the lottery is based on, the concept of fairness means that the sacrificial victim of this community is selected completely at random and there is nobody who is overlooked or who doesn't take their turn to select a ballot and therefore run the risk of being selected. Thus the other villagers, including Mrs. Hutchinson's own husband, dismiss her allegations that the lottery was not "fair":

"Be a good sport, Tessie." Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, "All of us took the same chance."

Of course, under this logic, Mrs. Delacroix and Mrs. Graves are perfectly correct: as all did take the same chance of drawing the spoiled piece of paper, the lottery was fair. However, the complaints of Tessie give rise to a far deeper and more profound concept of fairness, that is not based on the rules of the lottery being strictly followed but on whether the whole concept of the lottery and the human sacrifice that it involves is actually "fair." The tragedy of the story is that this meaning of fairness is only apparent to the reader; Tessie Hutchinson herself clearly never questions the lottery and whether it should happen, and is more than happy to argue that her daughters should be part of the Hutchinson family to reduce her chances of being selected for slaughter. Jackson creates a disparity in the meaning of the word "fairness" that highlights the shocking nature of the lottery and the bloodthirsty nature of humans. Just as Tessie is a woman who is presented as a mother who would gladly see one of her daughters die in her stead, so to do her friends and even her children collaborate in her slaughter. "Fairness" is something that is respected in terms of the rules of the lottery but markedly absent in terms of the respect for human life.

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