What is the significance of Old Man Warner's age in "The Lottery"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shirley Jackson apparently wants to cover the entire spectrum of ages and sexes in her story. Old Man Warner is the oldest person there. He serves as a human symbol to represent how long this lottery has been going on. He is also proud of the fact that he has escaped death for seventy-six years. At the other end of the spectrum is Dave Hutchinson, who is only about two years old, so tiny that he has to be helped with drawing his slip when the Hutchinson family is selected on the first round. Little Davie could have been stoned to death if he had drawn the black spot on the second round. Instead it was his mother Tessie, and he will be shown how to help in stoning her. There are lots of boys and girls present at the lottery drawing. They are being indoctrinated into the long tradition. 

Old Man Warner serves as a sort of spokesman for the lottery. He has managed to avoid being chosen for stoning himself, so he is all in favor of this annual ritual. He voices the thinking that has kept the lottery going year after year for so many years. When he dies--either of natural causes or of getting the black spot and being stoned to death--there is a good possibility that some people might start talking more seriously about terminating this superstitious custom. There is one indication that some of the younger girls might be the ones who would openly advocate abolishing the lottery. When the Hutchinson family is drawing in the second round,

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.

This is the only expression of human compassion during the entire event. (I think the reader, too, hopes the victim isn't twelve-year-old Nancy.) And her friend is so timid about expressing it that she has to whisper. But that whisper is heard by the entire crowd, and perhaps the majority feel the same. Old Man Warner would strongly disapprove of any such expression of what might be called a "felt value." He has no sympathy for anyone who gets the black spot. He leads the charge against Tessie Hutchinson when the victim turns out to be a woman he has known for many years.

Old Man Warner was saying, "Come on, come on, everyone."

Evidently it is not the older folks but the younger ones who will abolish this murder-lottery if it ever gets abolished. Someone has to realize that just being able to avoid being stoned to death, as Old Man Warner has done, doesn't make the insane custom all right. Someone else is going to be stoned to death. That happens to be Tessie Hutchinson this year, and she is telling everyone the truth when she keeps protesting: "It isn't fair, it isn't right!" 

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
                                                                      John Donne