What is the meaning of throwing of the stones at the end of "The Lottery"?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ending of Jackson's story is the realization of the town's tradition or practice of throwing stones and pelting one "chosen" individual in the village.  In the story, the "chosen one" is Tessie Hutchinson.  The meaning of the villagers throwing stones is both literal and symbolic.  On the literal end, the villagers literally circle around one individual in the village and pelt that person with stones until they are dead.  The opening of the story reflects this as children are running around, building and guarding their piles of stones.  A seemingly harmless action is brought to greater significance when Mrs. Delacroix, Tessie's close friend throughout the story, runs over to find a stone so big that she needs two hands to carry it.  The ending of "and they were upon her" reflects how the town draws the one person who will be pelted with stones.  The meaning of throwing stones is an act of targeting and exclusion, whereby one person is selected to be victimized as "the other."  In a more symbolic meaning, the act of throwing stones at the end of the story is an inversion of the Christian notion of "let he who is without sin cast the first stone."  In Jackson's short story, all of the "sinners" are freely casting stones at one who is relatively blameless in the process.  The symbolic meaning of being able to throw stones also reflects a very savage and primal way of resolving conflicts, symbolic of how the practice of silencing voices is something that has been around for as long as time itself.  In this, the idea of casting stones is something that reflects the sad, but time honored practice of targeting individuals as the recipients of social scorn and rejection.

The most important symbolic power of the stones as the vehicle for execution is the requirement of a large group of participants for success. If the "winner" was shot, hanged, choked, beheaded, etc., that would have been accomplished by one executioner. With stoning, mass amounts of people must each do their own part. No one gets away with simply watching; "someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles", so even Tessie's small son has to participate. This makes everyone in the town culpable though some may view their own role as too small to do any real damage since they may have thrown only a few stones that maybe only hit her legs. But Jackson implies that if you're not a vehicle for change, you're a part of the problem and, in this case, a murderer. This violent tradition's survival depends on the wholtown's blind acceptance of it or at least their unwillingness to change. Mr. Adams casually mentions a village "over in the north...talking of giving up the lottery." But this semi-suggestion of considering a similar change is quickly dismissed by Old Man Warner (WARN-er, get it?) whose role is to symbolize the hidebound traditionalists who won't even consider a new way of doing things. After Old Man Warner calls those who would stop the lottery a "pack of crazy fools", Mrs. Adam's claims "some places have already quit lotteries" but then there is no further mention of what Mr. and Mrs. Adams may have been discussing behind closed doors. There is no place for individual mindset in this tradition, only unquestioning group mentality. Everyone must gather June 27th to pluck one townsperson (man, woman, child or elderly) from the group. Everyone must pick up their own piece of the violence. Everyone must throw.