What is the procedure in the story "The Lottery" if the head of the house cannot attend?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This problem has undoubtedly come up numerous times over the years. The author has provided an example in her story in order to show that every household must be represented in every annual lottery. In this case, Clyde Dunbar is laid up with a broken leg. He is either lying in bed at home or sitting up in a chair. When Mr. Summers asks, "Anybody ain't here?" several people say, "Dunbar, Dunbar." Everybody knows everybody in this town.

Mr. Summers consulted his list. "Clyde Dunbar." he said. "That's right. He's broke his leg, hasn't he? Who's drawing for him?"

"Me. I guess," a woman said. and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. "Wife draws for her husband," Mr. Summers said. "Don't you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?" Although Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village knew the answer perfectly well, it was the business of the official of the lottery to ask such questions formally. Mr. Summers waited with an expression of polite interest while Mrs. Dunbar answered.

"Horace's not but sixteen vet." Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. "Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year."

This dialogue suggests two things. One is that this is a patriarchal society in which the husbands rule their families. The other is that women don't like to do the drawing because it is a rather grisly business. They may either be drawing a slip that will doom themselves or a family member to some punishment which has not yet been revealed to the reader, or else they will be drawing a blank slip which will save their household from tragedy but increase the chances of it happening to somebody else. There is an implication throughout the story that this lottery is a male ritual which would have have been allowed to fade away if the women had had anything to say about it. If and when the lottery is finally to perish, it will be because the women's "felt values" of kindness and compassion will eventually prevail. One clue that this may be happening in the not-too-distant future is perhaps implicit in the following dialogue after it turns out that Bill Hutchinson has drawn the fatal slip for his family.

The crowd was quiet. A girl whispered, "I hope it's not Nancy," and the sound of the whisper reached the edges of the crowd.

The girl has to whisper because it wouldn't do for anyone to show sympathy or mercy for any participant in the lottery. But someday this girl, who is around the same age as twelve-year-old Nancy Hutchinson, may speak in a louder voice for all to hear. And if she does so, there will be a number of other female voices raised in her support. By that time Old Man Warner will be dead, and there will be few men in the town who will care to insist that this futile and savage superstition be prolonged. Tessie Hutchinson sees the truth at the last minute, but it is too late for her to have any influence on her friends, neighbors, and the four family members who are closing in on her with their stones.

"It isn't fair, it isn't right," Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her



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The Lottery

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