What is the social atrocity in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"?Comparing a contemporary social atrocity with the social atrocity in "The Lottery." I have a general idea, but I just kind of need...

What is the social atrocity in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"?

Comparing a contemporary social atrocity with the social atrocity in "The Lottery."

I have a general idea, but I just kind of need help. That's the essay prompt for it.

Expert Answers
lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your prompt makes you really think about what Shirley Jackson's point is in this powerful short story.  It is very easy to read the story and think to yourself, "that would never happen here."  After all, there is no place we know of in the United States where a town gathers once  a year to hold a lottery to determine who will be the human sacrifice in a death by stoning!  This shocking event is the social atrocity that your prompt asks about. What makes the story especially shocking and all the more horrible is that the town seems to have almost forgotten why they do this each year and they REQUIRE that every single person in the community participate in the actual stoning, including the family members of the condemned.  The whole story builds to this sickening conclusion, but when we finish reading we are relieved that this would never happen here. 

The second part of your prompt is what makes the story applicable to our lives.  This story explores several themes that ARE relevant in small and large ways in our lives.  First, the story explores the idea of the "mob mentality" and the "anonymity of the mob."  It makes you think about the things we do because we are caught up with a group of other people all doing that thing.  An example might be something like rushing onto the field at a the end of a sporting event.  You wouldn't run out there alone, but you don't stop yourself when you are caught up in the actions of a crowd.  Or, you woudn't start a food fight, but you'll throw something when everyone else is.  Neither of these examples are actrocities, but you get the idea.  On the atrocity level, many people associate this behavior with the actions and attitudes of some of the people in Germany during the Nazi regime.  Many people "went along with" what the Nazi's were doing because it is what everyone else was doing.  One soldier may not have murdered an innocent person, but when all the soldiers involved were shooting the Jews, then it is easier to relieve oneself of the guilt.

Another theme of the story is the unquestioning belief in traditions, even in the face of a question about the value of the tradition.  On a small level, it is like any tradition that we do -- even if we hardly know why we do it.  When we find ourselves unwilling to change because "that's the way it has always been done" we are like the people in the story.  Racial and ethic attitudes, and the violence that comes out of those attitudes could be an example of a social atrocity.  The racist beliefs of the KKK could be considered a "tradition" of sorts, and their terrorizing of innocent blacks would certainly be considered a social atrocity.

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The Lottery

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