What seems to have been the original purpose of the lottery? What do the townspeople believe about it? Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery".

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Upon performing a close reading of "The Lottery" we find that the villagers have little to no knowledge of what exactly it was, what it was for, nor why it was still being conducted. We find evidence of this in the part of the story which reads,

some people remembered, there had been a recital...performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory, tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year... the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this p3rt of the ritual had been allowed to lapse.

This implies that the people duly followed a tradition that nobody has bothered to even follow with enough care and respect to remember each and every one of its goals and purposes. We hear "traces" of knowledge; one chant, perhaps a formal salute, a few changes to the format, etc. Aside from the format of the tradition, we see no important content; there is no substance to the matter and moreover there is only one flimsy explanation in the entire story and it is that

there’s been a lottery for seventy-seven years"

and that any attempt to change things would be ridiculous.

However, Old Man Warner who has seen over the lottery for the seventy years of his life without getting picked, provides a clue as to what the origins of the lottery once were.

Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery

Therefore, that there was once a purpose and reason for the lottery to exist is evident. They sacrificed one of their own to secure rain and good crops. However, it is also evident that they have maintained a tradition that is based on fallacy for no real reason. No mention of the crops nor the rain is made except for Old Warner.

There is a note to make, however, and it is that there seems to be an underground feeling of rejection toward the lottery that may indicate the beginning of change. Notice how Mr. Adams says that

over in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery

to which the Old Man Warner responds,

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 hat way for a while.

Combine that with Tessie's final words "it's not fair", and we get a clear picture: the people merely follow the status quo without question, even though deep inside they are as scared and against the practice as anyone else could be. It is a message to the reader: beware of the practices followed out of habit; they can actually lead to our moral, personal, physical, or social death.

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