What role does Old Man Warner play in "The Lottery"?

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katwood001 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Lottery," Old Man Warner is the tradition keeper of the town. He has attended seventy-five Lotteries.  He is the oldest man in the village and has taken it upon himself to be the guardian of the town's traditions.  While Warner does not know how the Lottery started, he associates the tradition with the harvest of the crops.  He firmly believes that giving up the Lottery will result in general starvation throughout the town.  Warner's position in the town's society places him in the position of providing the narrative regarding the Lottery to the citizenry.  The resulting good crops after the Lottery takes place in turn give him credibility, which strengthens his position.  

Warner fits the typical cranky old man stereotype.  He reflects on the changes to their society and sees them as dangers to their way of life.  Warner's "tradition grumbles" are cautionary warnings of the dangers of non-conformity. Old Man Warner's philosophy is that tradition must be a force that outweighs reason.  The town does not need to understand why—they must do.  

In the story, Old Man Warner provides the importance of his position as the tradition keeper of the Lottery.  Without the traditions of the town, the town would fall back to an uncivilized pattern and starve. 

Old Man Warner snorted. "Pack of crazy fools," he said. "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 think you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery," he added petulantly.

In general, Old Man Warner symbolizes the dangers of following tradition without thinking.  His blind acceptance of something that people have begun to doubt (other towns have given up the Lottery, and they have not starved) shows how traditional fixation can ignore evidence to the contrary.  Old Man Warner's character provides a warning that people need to think for themselves rather than rely on people who cite tradition but provide no logic for why this must happen.