Who is the scapegoat in the story “The Lottery”?
One of the most interesting aspects of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is the time period in which it was written. Published in 1948, just three years after the end of World War II and the discovery of the Nazi death camps, "The Lottery" touches on the idea that otherwise kind and friendly people could do something horrific to innocent people, who, in retrospect, are scapegoats for these people's problems. For Hitler and Germany, the Jewish people were the scapegoats, and in this story, Tessie Hutchinson serves a similar purpose.
The actual lottery in Jackson's story clearly has something to do with agricultural problems in this small village, as Old Man Warner says, "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon." The villagers, obviously afraid of offending their gods or nature, find it necessary to commit the ultimate evil by murdering an innocent woman in the hopes that this sacrifice will yield a good crop.
Overall, Jackson's story is a commentary on the evils the masses will commit if they believe their lives are endangered. In 1930s Germany, Hitler and his regime trumped up a bunch of phony allegations about Jews causing that nation's economic problems, which led to Kristallnacht, the destruction of Jewish-owned businesses, and then to the Jewish concentration camps. In "The Lottery," the people in this village obviously feel their lives are at risk without a bountiful harvest and, in this year's lottery, scapegoat Tessie.
A scapegoat is a word that comes from the Bible. In order to symbolically get rid of the sins of the Israelites, a goat was selected and all of the sins of the community were transferred to that goat, who was left to wander in the wilderness, so that the Israelites could remain pure and unblemished, enabling them to stand before God as holy and sinless.
In this chilling short story, the reader comes to understand by the end of the tale that this community every year uses the lottery to select a scapegoat from amongst them as a kind of blood sacrifice to ensure that they will have a good harvest. Note what Old Man Warner says about the traditions associated with the lottery:
Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.'
The saying of Old Man Warner clearly links the human sacrifice of one of the villagers with a blood offering meant to appease the gods to ensure a good harvest. In this story, therefore, the scapegoat is the woman who is selected to die: Tess Hutchinson.
In Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery, Tessie Hutchinson draws the slip with the black dot on it and becomes the symbolic scapegoat of the community. As was mentioned in the previous post, a scapegoat traces its roots to the Jewish tradition of leading a goat into the wilderness during Yom Kippur to atone for the community's sins. Similarly, each year on June 27th, the villagers gather to draw from the ominous black box in order to select the next victim to be sacrificed. Although Jackson does not go into detail, it is suggested by Old Man Warner's comment that the sacrifice will ensure a good harvest. When Tessie Hutchinson is selected, she protests by saying that the lottery is not fair. The ambiguity attached to the annual sacrifice is intentional and connects to the theme of blindly following tradition. Tessie Hutchinson unwillingly becomes the scapegoat of the village when she selects the slip with the black dot.
A scapegoat is an individual or animal sacrificed to pay for the sins or mistakes of others. The practice can be traced back to ancient societies that offered an animal or an individual as a sacrifice to their gods or as a symbol of atonement. The animal or individual was in some instances banished from the community or killed to serve the purpose.
In "The Lottery," the community is bound by superstitious beliefs and practices passed on from generation to generation. The people believed that a member of the community had to be sacrificed to avert a crisis in the community. Bountiful harvests and prosperity were pegged on the sacrifice made by the community.
Thus, the scapegoat in the story is Tessie Hutchinson. Tessie, unfortunately, draws a black dotted slip, which symbolizes her selection as the sacrifice. She is subsequently stoned to death by the entire community.