Who is the main character in "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson?

Expert Answers
ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What a fascinating discussion of a great piece of literature. Who is the main character? Perhaps a better question would be to ask who is the protagonist and who or what is the antagonist in this story. I would have to say that Tessie Hutchinson is the main character. Jackson spends some time on her when she draws attention to Tessie being late through her comments and the comments of other characters. She also says a lot about Tessie’s character when Tessie seems willing to through her oldest daughter into the pool in order to save herself. Tessie also has some behaviors and mannerisms that come out in the story as well. Do we want Tessie to die? No, so she would perhaps be the protagonist. The antagonist, however, could be the lottery itself which is shown to be archaic through the discussion of the old man and comments made about other towns. The black box could also be considered an antagonist as it delivers the official marked ballot to Tessie. Both of these elements work against Tessie’s primary purpose which is to live.

emratica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the previous posts, but I must also argue for the black box as a main character.  Jackson spends little time describing the people of the village, making it out to be stereotypically small-town America.  The one thing she dedicates serious detail to is the black box, describing its details and history in its very own paragraph.  She also shares how the villagers react to it: with the apperance of the box the crowd hushes and few men want to be near it, creating the tension between characters and throughout the story.  

Also, the black box is symbolic of the tradition and stability of the town itself, as well as representing something more mysteriously sinister.  However, the form of the box is not so important as its actual existence.  Each character must encounter the box at some point and thus every character has a personal relationship with it.  The lottery itself is a silent guest that visits the town yearly, but the box remains as the embodiment of the brutality of the townspeople.     

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The lottery itself is the main character.  All of the story's conflict revolves around the town's tradition of carrying out the lottery, and the townspeople would not have tension between themselves it it were not for the lottery.

You could argue that tradition is the main character because that is what the lottery represents.  The townspeople are controlled by the lottery and follow its tradition mindlessly.

Another argument for the lottery as the protagonist is that it is the only developed "character."  Jackson does not give much detail about individual characters other than gender stereotypes (with the boys and girls at the story's beginning), and brief descriptions of the families.  In contrast, Jackson devotes quite a bit of detail to the lottery, from the black box and its condition to the process of the event.  Although it is a static character, the lottery's influence over the town dominates all other "characters."

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I like the idea of the lottery as the main character in the story, but I cannot resist nominating Tessie Hutchinson for the part.  While it is true that all of the characters participate seemingly voluntarily in the lottery process, Tessie is a singularly unattractive character.  We do not know how other "winners" have behaved in past years, but Tessie's character is revealed when we see her willing to sacrifice another family member to save herself.  How many of us with children would suggest that our married children become part of the same "pool" to reduce our chances of being picked for the kill?  She is not the Mother of the Year.  Sometimes I suspect Shirley Jackson made Tessie particularly loathsome, so we wouldn't feel quite as bad about her demise. 

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the previous posts--fascinating discussion, really!  I would go with Tessie as main character, however.  She does change throughout the story, and I find it particularly moving that her son is the first to cast stones at her.

While the box and the lottery are great candidates for main character (and they do both dominate the actions and reactions), they do not grow or change in any way.  At the end of the story, the black box is still ragged, faded, and neglected from years of use.  The lottery, despite the "talk" of rejection or alteration from the townspeople, does not change with Tessie's death.  We as readers expect it to be back in full force with the next spring crop.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my mind, the community is the main character of the short story.  The idea that the lottery is accepted practice in the social order, where an individual has to be targeted is something that occupies the greatest importance, in my mind.  It is always an element that resonates within me:  The notion of the terror of the community becoming standardized practice is a horrifying one, and an element that occupies a great deal of importance upon reading the work.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The black box and the lottery itself would be main characters. What if we considered this a bit more abstractly? The lottery and the black box are the protagonists. They are carrying out the role that they have been established to fulfill. Tessie Hutchinson, on the other hand, is the antagonist because she tries to thwart the "natural" process. She even attempts to sacrifice others instead of herself.

Read the study guide:
The Lottery

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question