Shirley Jackson examines the dangers of blindly following traditions and rituals throughout her short story "The Lottery." While Jackson is not suggesting that all traditions and rituals are negative or threatening, she does illustrate the dangers attached to blindly following traditions simply for the sake of carrying on the custom. In Jackson's short story, the unnamed community continues to follow a brutal ritual, where each citizen is forced to draw a slip of paper and risks being stoned to death by their neighbors if they draw the slip with the black spot on it. Jackson emphasizes that senseless nature of the lottery by mentioning the various aspects of the tradition that were lost to time and the fact that the ritual is based on an ancient superstitious belief. Old Man Warner symbolically represents rigid traditionalists, who refuse to exercise perspective and tolerance while they insist on blindly following the senseless tradition. Tessie Hutchinson's brutal death poignantly highlights the dangers of blindly following tradition as Jackson intended. Her story influences readers to question the nature and function of certain traditions and cautions readers about the dangers of blindly conforming to society's expectations.
Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is a powerful argument against ritual and tradition. She is not arguing that all traditions and ceremonies are inherently evil. What she is showing us is that following a ritual mindlessly can lead people to evil acts. The people in the village clearly have no idea why this ritual is performed every year. They speculate about it, that perhaps it owed its origin to some sort of sacrifice to improve the harvest, but they seem to realize how silly that is. They acknowledge that other villages are abandoning the tradition, but they adhere to it blindly, doing something because it has always been done. We are civilized human beings, who should be able to reason about right and wrong and leave behind foolish and superstitious ceremonies, which is why tribes no longer practice cannibalism and we know better than to throw young virgins into volcanoes to placate the gods. Committing a barbaric act cannot be justified just because it has always been done, nor can it be justified on the basis that our leaders have told us to commit it.
The story implies that traditions and ceremonies are extremely important to the survival of the town as a whole. Even though no one remembers the origins of the lottery, they cannot imagine not holding it on a yearly basis. It is an ingrained ritual that will not be easily abandoned. The older members of the town, such as Old Man Warner, who has witnessed 77 lotteries, is adamant about continuing to hold the lottery. He is an example of how a meaningless tradition is clung to just because it has always been that way.
This town is superstitious about doing away with the lottery, afraid that if they abandon it that something bad will happen to the town.
According to the following passages, the lottery has taken on a life all its own, no one is willing to challenge the authority of the lottery. There isn't anyone who wants to make such a decision as to why the lottery is important, or when and if it should be done away with, but there are plenty of people in the town who are uncomfortable with the ritual.
"The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box." (Jackson)
"There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here." (Jackson)
Tessie Hutchinson, who is chosen as the winner of the lottery questions the legitimacy of the whole process, but no one cares. Mrs. Dunbar, one of her neighbors, shows her disdain for the tradition by choosing only small stones. While Mrs. Delacroix, another neighbor, shows her primitive instincts, by picking up the biggest and heaviest stones flinging them upon Tessie Hutchinson with enthusiasm.