In Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery ," the nondescript rural town holds an annual ritual at the end of each June, where the community gathers in the village square to participate in the lottery. On the 27th of each June, the head of every household draws a...
In Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," the nondescript rural town holds an annual ritual at the end of each June, where the community gathers in the village square to participate in the lottery. On the 27th of each June, the head of every household draws a slip of paper from the ominous black box until someone chooses the slip with the black spot on it. That family then draws additional slips from the black box until someone chooses the black spot. This unlucky family member is brutally stoned to death by the entire community.
The exact purpose of the lottery is ambiguous and even the citizens are not aware of its meaning. Old Man Warner briefly comments on the lottery’s origins by saying, "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon" (5). Warner's comment indicates that the lottery's origins center on a superstitious belief that sacrificing an innocent citizen will increase the harvest yield. This irrational belief underscores the senseless, illogical nature of the ritual.
Warner also expresses the belief that if towns were to discontinue the ritual, everyone would go back to living in caves and chaos would immediately ensue. It is this belief that Jackson illustrates is the primary reason people continue to participate in the senseless ritual.
Jackson's underlying message concerns the dangers of blindly following tradition. Essentially, the citizens refuse to stop participating in the lottery because of their irrational fears. They continue holding the lottery because they feel compelled to adhere to the tradition. Instead of questioning the ritual, exploring its origins, or challenging tradition, the inflexible, intolerant citizens continue senselessly murdering innocent people on an annual basis. Simply put, they continue the lottery because it has always taken place and has become a tradition.