Why would the villagers in "The Lottery" keep following the blind tradition?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do believe that the fear of change is a part of the continuation of the lottery practice.  A part of this is the natural resistance people have to change.  It is inconceivable for the villagers to change or stop the tradition, even though there is an equally little reason for it to continue in the first place.  The rationale behind why it is even present has been lost over time, but there is still an inertia to changing it:

Old Man Warner, the oldest man in the village, also represents the theme of tradition. When Mr. and Mrs. Adams suggest to Warner that some other villages have already given up the lottery or are thinking about doing so, he replies with, 'Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves . There's always been a lottery."

Representing the continuation of the lottery, Old Man Warner cannot give a solid reason as to why the lottery practice has to continue, other than to argue its existential reason as being justification enough.  Jackson might be making the point that some traditions have been passed down for so long that their examination and the assessment as to why they are present are no longer undergone.  After seeing what happens to Tessie, Jackson might be insisting that traditions taken for granted as being "absolute" are assessed.

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Jackson is asking us to ask this question by writing the story. It's like the mythical lemmings who all ran over the cliff because the rest were doing it—it makes no sense. Even some characters in the story discuss that other towns are talking of stopping their lottery, but in this town—like zombies, once a year— everyone shows up to play "Russian Roulette," and no one says a word.

When Tessie complains, her husband tells her to shut-up. Beneath every revolution, there is at least one, but more often many, who rise up and say, "No!" The people in the story are too complacent. Jackson wrote this in the 1940s, and while many people were not at all complacent with the terrible things that were happening abroad, there were many people in Europe, even in Germany, who being untouched by the Nazis' insanity and bloodlust, believed the stories of concentration camps were false. Who can understand people who live with their heads down and never look up. If you're not that kind of person, it's impossible to make sense of it.

Shirley Jackson's stories were always about stirring the pot, and this story was no exception. It creeped people out at the time, and it is still a powerful story all these years later.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"That's just how we do it; we've being doing it this way for six generations."  These are the words of an Appalachian man who has repeated a method that does not work, but because his ancestors have done it, he blindly follows as though it is embedded in his genetic code.

In small rural areas, there are villagers like those in "The Lottery" who blindly follow tradition.  However, stoning someone is on another line.  This sadistic act points to the words of King David of the Old Testament, who said that man is evil from birth and wicked from his youth.  Indeed, there is something inherent in human nature that delights violence.  And, this secret delight that is condoned once a year may be the main reason for the adherence of the villagers to tradition.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9)

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Why do we, today, follow blindly after blind ideas or traditions? For example, here are some present blind ideas/traditions we blindly follow after: My family has always voted Republican/Democrat, so I do too; Literature is good because critics say it is and it is assigned in school, even tough I loath reading it, and it depresses me and gives me nightmares; My music choice is good music because everyone listens to it and says it's good; Ethnic groups are no good because everyone says they're no good. If we think we are not guilty of some or all of such blind ideas and traditions, we deceive ourselves (under our faded house dresses and sweaters)--which is Jackson's point, isn't it?

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Good responses all, but there is also something really dark in why the lottery continues in the village. It is revealed in the behavior of these friends and neighbors when they stone the helpless Tessie to death. They become savages, thrilling to the chase and the blood. They not only sacrifice her in the name of tradition, they take a primeval pleasure in it, demonstrating an instinctive need to destroy. Perhaps the lottery continues because it satisfies the blood lust in human nature in a way that is socially acceptable among these "civilized" people. The story always reminds me of Lord of the Flies; civilization seems to be a very thin veneer at best.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Exactly!  Jackson wants us to ask that question, since we all adhere to silly "tradition" for tradition's sake.  Why do we only wear white on wedding days?  Why not wear red if we want to? Why not wear white pants after Labor Day? Why are there so many traditions that we continue to do without even knowing the reason? 

Jackson's point is don't follow the crowd.  Think for yourself.  The younger citizens begin to do this and question the validity of the lottery...even pointing out that other towns nearby have already done away with the process...but they are crushed by the old man.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two particularly chilling moments tell me that everyone is complicit in this savage ritual. First, Tessie tried to make her daughter draw a slip of paper, obviously hoping to increase her own odds of escaping death. What parent would sacrifice their child in order to save themselves? It's just not natural. Second, little Davy is given stones to throw after it has been determined his mother is marked for death. That is chilling enough; however, the implication is that mother would have stoned child if the dot had gone to Davy. Again, that is unnatural and savage.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think this is Jackson's point.  She is saying that people follow tradition blindly and there is no "why" to it.  She is trying to point out that so many atrocities in our world (she was writing soon after the Holocaust, for example) happen because people just go along with they "way things are."  They just accept that we should keep doing the lottery because we always have, or we should keep hating Jews because we always have.

So, I think there is no "why" to it and that is the point that the author is trying to make with this story.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with #6: the practice of the Lottery allows the villagers to acceptably express their bloodthirsty, savage and violent nature. Yes, there is definitely a sense in which the villagers are shown to be slaves to tradition, but it also appears that there is something almost cathartic about turning into bloodthirsty savages and killing one of their own. Perhaps it is this unacknowledged savagery that makes this such a enduring tradition that is so hard to break away from.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The people of the village are also reminded of the old adage that goes along with their lottery:  "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon."  This simple expression reinforces the superstition behind the lottery, and the tradition that it represents.  Jackson is illustrating that truth about the superstitious nature of human beings.  Many people have completely illogical superstitions that they hold very dearly.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mshurn makes a great point. There are some in the community that mention the changes other communities are made, but even these members thrill to the savagery of the tradition. However, Tessie is only innocent in that she is the one being stoned this time, however, last year, she was one of those involved in the savagery perpetrated on that year's victim.

thewanderlust878 | Student

I believe that they blindly follow the tradition because they don't know what else to do. Without the stability of the tradition, I don't think they would know what to do with themselves. Even though the tradition is not something that is good, the villagers have never experienced anything different, so I believe it would be worse without the tradition. 

malika786 | Student

majority of them are illitrate .........


mathebula | Student

The story highlights the danger of following tradition without quiestioning it. It also shows the savagery of human being. In this story there is an old man werner whom resist change. even though they tells him that other tribes had leaved the lottery, he does not agree on change without giving valid reason. there's an innocent woman whom is stoned to death. every winter a person dies at lottery but they dont want to stop it.

gregghebert | Student

One word: superstition.

What would have happened if the villagers had not blindly followed the tradition? The answer: no one knew. The villagers felt as if they could not break from tradition because of the consequences that could potentially ensue.

The villagers were simple people, that much is certain. Their harvest was what sustained them and they simply could not risk adversely affecting it.

Furthermore, many vicious traditions need not be explained - precedent is sometimes the only thing that thrusts them forward.

The fear of the unknown often locks a person into the prison of habit.