Why is person vs. society the major conflict in "The Lottery"?  I know that it is Person vs. Society but I just don't know how to explain it and I can't find anything that can help me.

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The central conflict in “The Lottery” is the external conflict of person vs. society, because it is the traditions of the village that cause Tessie Hutchinson to be killed, and one other person a year before her.

A person vs. society conflict exists when the rules or governance of the society come into conflict with the character.  The character is threatened or impaired in some way by society.  In this story, all characters are at conflict with society because the victim is chosen by lottery, but the Hutchinsons are the main conflict.

“The Lottery” is the story of a village that sacrifices one of its people each year.  The victim is chosen by lottery.  There is no reason for this murder, except that things are done as they always have been.

No one knows the original purpose of the lottery.  They will not even repair the three-legged stool so it can stand by itself, or replace the dilapidated black box, because “no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box.”  They seem to see the lottery as nothing more than an interruption in their daily routine.

"Well, now." Mr. Summers said soberly, "guess we better get started, get this over with, so's we can go back to work.

People in the village act the way they do because that is the way it’s always been.  The lottery has been used since the first villagers settled, so they continue it.  No one questions anything.  Parts of the ritual only change when no one can remember them.

This story represents the costs of going along with everyone else.  If people don’t question things because no one else questions them, then grave injustices will continue.  The mob mentality allows individuals to be anonymous and not held accountable for their choices.  Like peer pressure, people just go along with whatever is done by the next person.





mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps, the main conflict can be explained with two quotes, one of Tessie Hutchinson's and the other of Old Man Warner's. These two characters have opposing views about the lottery:

"It ain't fair, it isn't right," Mrs. Hutchison screamed."
"There's always been a lottery," he [Old Man Warner] added, petulantly." 

The ideas expressed in these two quotes represent the conflict of individual thinking against blind adherence to tradition. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson has described the continuing of a custom and the blind adherence to this act just because it is traditional as "the opium of custom." Indeed, it is apparent that the members of Tessie Hutchinson's community are not thinking clearly and rationally after Mr. Summers, the lottery official, hurries through the ritual of the ceremony. Following the drawing of the name of the victim, it is as though the people of the community are in some clouded mental state as they gather stones and rush to kill Mrs. Hutchinson, especially when Mrs. Delacroix, who has been friendly to Tessie, selects a huge rock to hurl at the victim.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a Person vs. Society conflict, a particular character in the story struggles against the laws, regulations, or culture of their society. In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," Tessie Hutchinson experiences a Person vs. Society conflict after her name is randomly chosen during the community's annual lottery ceremony. Tessie Hutchinson struggles against her society's outdated, harmful tradition of ritually stoning a random citizen every June.

The community's reasoning behind the lottery is never explicitly stated, which emphasizes the theme of blindly following tradition throughout the story. After being chosen as the community's sacrifice, Tessie protests by saying, "It isn't fair, it isn't right" (7). Unfortunately, Tessie Hutchinson is helpless against the community's insistence on following the mysterious tradition as they gather stones to hurl at her.

Overall, Tessie's conflict focuses on her inability to alter the community's decision to stone her as part of their annual ritual. Despite her protests, Tessie becomes a victim of her society's brutal tradition.