What does "The Lottery" say about human nature?

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jackson's "The Lottery" reveals that human beings are capable of committing great atrocities and behaving cruelly, when such are condoned by society and peer pressure and tradition.  The story also reveals that human beings are prone to scapegoat others.

The characters in the story are not exceptional or odd or different in any obvious way.  They are normal people in a normal town.  But when they form a group, or mob, and when atrocity and cruelty are sanctioned by the group, they eagerly participate in the behavior seen in the conclusion. 

This actually parallels human behavior.  Numerous examples exist, but I'll mention just one, which would have, in all likelihood, been fresh in Jackson's mind when she wrote the story.  During WWII, Nazi's were not the only persecutors of minorities.  Once persecution was sanctioned by the Nazis, towns and villages across Europe began persecuting Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals.  Concentration camps were not the only places where minorities were slaughtered.  Group violence is a real phenomenon. 

"The Lottery" reveals this.


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To me, this story tells us that human beings are by nature followers.  We stick with tradition and with what we are told.  We will sometimes do this even if it leads us to do horrible things.

In this story, we see this in the fact that the people are willing to go through with this horrible lottery even though they seem like nice people.  They do not seem like people who would kill their neighbor just for the fun of it.  But tradition tells them they should kill one of their neighbors every year and so they do it without really any questions.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It teaches how it is our nature to need traditions, rules, and leadership, yet, how sometimes this need for anchoring may make us blind to what exactly it is that we could end up potentially following, and whether such following is ultimately good or bad for us.

In the story, the town did appreciate the Lottery as a tradition, it is the outcome of it what everyone naturally feared, so that shows that humans, similarly, embrace routine and practice but many times we do not even know why, nor to what consequences this need might lead.

epollock | Student

Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" says that people who blindly follow traditions are worse off than if they didn't. It says in the story that there are towns that no longer have the lottery, but this one town still does. If people were natural followers, then all the towns would still do it. An important thing to notice in the poem is that there are still quite a few people in the town, so it can not happen to everyone. Some people it seems are initially from the consequences from the lottery, and the full impact is not known until the very end. The story is a wonderful gripping short story. 

mkcapen1 | Student

For me The Lottery clearly demonstrates how human beings are capable of looking the other way when someone is hared or at risk of harm until it comes time for them to be the victim.  When the story was written it was this sentiment that the author meant to portray.  World War II was still burning in people's minds and all the deaths of the Jews in the concentration camps. 

Citizens looked away as the foreign Jews were being deported or placed into ghettos.  Even the Jewish citizens did not take attention and do anything because it was not their problem, Yet.  Later when the reality of the war was over, the truth about not intervening came out.  Human nature is very much about self-preservation.

batangg | Student

i think 'the lottery' represents how humans can be cruel into one another and how they can easily judge another person because of a mistake, or like Tessie who picked the paper with the black dot. it shows that it is human nature to judge a person by means of one thing and not thinking or taking credit of that person's being.

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The Lottery

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