What is the theme of "The Lottery"? Use evidence.

The theme of "The Lottery" concerns the dangers of blindly following tradition. Jackson illustrates this theme by depicting the citizens's adherence to the senseless ritual and their willingness to participate in such a brutal custom.

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The primary theme of Shirley Jackson's celebrated short story "The Lottery" concerns the dangers of blindly following tradition. In the story, the nondescript rural town routinely carries out the brutal tradition of the lottery every June. During the ritual, a defenseless citizen is randomly selected and stoned to death by the entire community. Despite the brutality of the lottery, the citizens adhere to the senseless ritual because it is a tradition. Even the origins of the lottery are based on antiquated superstitious beliefs, which only emphasizes the illogical nature of the tradition.

Jackson highlights the community's willingness to follow the tradition by characterizing certain citizens as narrow-minded proponents of the lottery. For example, Old Man Warner embodies the community's superstitious perception of the lottery and fear of abandoning the savage tradition by criticizing the progressive northern villages for ending the lottery. Old Man Warner goes on to tell Mr. Adams,

Pack of crazy fools...Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. (Jackson, 4).

The only outspoken citizen who challenges the lottery is Tessie Hutchinson, and she tragically becomes the community's scapegoat. Once Bill Hutchinson draws the slip of paper with the black spot on it, Tessie protests but is immediately silenced by her husband and neighbors. Mrs. Delacroix instructs Tessie to "be a good sport," Bill tells his wife to "Shut up," and Mrs. Graves reminds her that everyone took the same chance.

Their reactions further solidify Jackson's theme as they proceed to stone Tessie Hutchinson to death in the middle of the town square. Overall, the citizens's adherence to the lottery and acceptance of the jarring violence associated with the senseless ritual reveals the dangers of blindly following tradition.

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In "The Lottery," there are contrasting themes of tradition and randomness.

The primary tradition in the story is the lottery itself, a yearly ritual performed by the community to decide who will be sacrificed. As readers, we are horrified by this idea, but the point that Jackson is trying to make is that people become accustomed to certain ways of living—even those that are horrible.

This is an easy point to understand when looking at history. Think, for instance, of how many Americans used to own slaves and thought of this practice as perfectly acceptable. They were able to do so because it was the only way of life they had ever known; they did not have the hindsight that we possess today. Most likely, the people of the future will look back on us today and be horrified in a similar way by our behaviors.

What is interesting about the people in "The Lottery" is that they complicate their deeply ingrained tradition by utilizing randomness. The randomness comes in the form of the lottery itself; the lottery ensures that the person who is sacrificed is chosen arbitrarily. In other words, it is a hardened tradition that is paradoxically contingent upon the random. Or at least it seems that way.

If we look carefully at the story, we find that the tradition may not be as sacred as the town officials initially lead us to believe. For instance, we are told that "much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded" and that, this year, "Mr Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations." By giving the reader these details, Jackson makes us ask: How sacred is the ritual if town officials are able to change things according to their own discretion? Also, how random is this ritual? Could town officials be cheating by removing their own names from consideration?

Ultimately, all of these things are left unresolved. But by asking these questions, Jackson urges us to think about our own habits and traditions from the position of an outsider.

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One of the main themes in "The Lottery" is the cult of tradition. People do things out of habit on a daily and even yearly basis. Habits become rituals which can become traditions. When social institutions (such as a church, government, or company) establish traditions, they become rituals. After so much time has passed, people find it difficult to part with tradition, no matter what it is.

There are whispers in the crowd from people who've heard that other towns are no longer doing the lottery. Of course, the oldest villager, Old Man Warner, the one most steeped in tradition (and a stubborn lack of common sense and morality), scoffs at the idea of no lottery.

"Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery," he added petulantly.

Old Man Warner never gives a reason why the lottery is performed. He just says it's always been. In this case, a tradition such as this ritual is not performed to honor a worthwhile historical event or some cultural figure. For these people, the ritual is done for its own sake. It is a mindless adherence to a ritual and it is a cult of tradition.

Some traditions should be celebrated. But traditions and rituals which do harm should obviously be dropped. This seems like an obvious point to make, but there are traditions and/or traditional beliefs today that some people think are harmful. For example, some people think that the "traditional" notion of marriage is between a man and a woman. However, many people believe that this tradition needs to change to include same sex marriages. Those who oppose same sex marriage use religious doctrine and procreation as their arguments, but they also tend to use the empty argument: "That's the way it's always been."

Here is another example. Some people think that the Confederate flag is offensive, but many southerners feel that it is part of their tradition.


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