The Lottery Meaning

What is the meaning of the story "The Lottery" and is that meaning still relevant today?

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Lottery" warns readers of the dangers of maintaining traditions only because they are traditions.  Traditions must be continually reevaluated to determine if they are still relevant, appropriate, necessary, and humane. Your family might have a particular tradition that you enact during some holiday, and such a tradition might be incredibly satisfying and pleasurable for everyone involved: perhaps you watch a slideshow of old family photos each year and bake Grandma her favorite cake on her birthday. However, marriage, for instance, has traditionally been between a man and a woman, but, more recently, that tradition has been changed so that two men or two women can marry, because the tradition was found to be discriminatory. Some traditions deserve to be discontinued for similar reasons. Such a theme—the importance of questioning tradition—is certainly relevant today, as we can see with this example.

However, the community represented in this story is loathe to question or change any tradition, even the cruel one depicted here. The narrator says,

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.
They won't even consent to updating the box from which the names for the lottery are drawn, so there certainly seems no hope that they would actually consent to question the tradition with which it is associated. This unwillingness to question tradition renders them complicit in murder.
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shirley Jackson's very controversial story is considered by many to be a parable about the detached inhumanity of man to man. Indeed, this detachment in cruelty is most relevant today as the daily news almost certainly has a report every day of some child killing his parents or grandparents because they would not comply with his wishes, etc.  And, when interviewed, the child calmly relates what he/she has done.

The dangers of indoctrination and conditioned, ritualized behavior are exemplified in the harrowing story told from such an objective point of view.  When Bill Hutchinson blindly obeys Mr. Summers and opens his wife's slip of paper which revels the black mark, Mr. Summer summarily orders,

All right, folks," .... "Let's finish quickly."  Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones....Mrs. Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dungar. "Come on,'" she said. "Hurry up."

None of the horror of the act touches the people, who are so inured to it. Instead, they are worried about hurrying and the time.  The reader can easily picture residents of a crowded city pausing only momentarily at the sight of violence to which they are inured, then hurrying to wherever they are going.


dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

'The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson represents a fictional short story which incorporates a truth as the author experienced it. Jackson's story forces the reader to question the blind almost robotic behavior of the town described in 'The Lottery' and the blindness she believed prevelant in her society. Jackson wrote her story as a sort of 'vechile' that would eventually raise awareness to the dangerous tendencies in her society. The idea that ritualistic death by the so called 'luck of the draw' to ensure the future of the community as described in 'The Lottery' suggests a grave hypocrisy. The idea that concepts of freedom and liberty in a modern society can be compromised when power goes 'unchecked' with a practice which denies that very ideology is Jackson's subtle attempt to remind us that complacency in a free society combined with an inability to question authority will result in the inhumanity of humanity.