Introduction to "The Lottery"
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1581
Although Shirley Jackson wrote many books, children's stories and humorous pieces, she is most remembered for her story "The Lottery." In "The Lottery'' Jackson portrays the average citizens of an average village taking part in an annual sacrifice of one of their own residents. When the story was published in the New Yorker magazine in 1948, reader response was tremendous. People were horrified by the story and wrote to express their disgust that a tale containing a pointless, arbitrary, violent sacrifice had been allowed to be published. Some also called to see where the town was so that they could go and watch the lottery. It is this last behavior, the need to feel a part of the gruesomeness that exists in American society, that Jackson so skillfully depicts in "The Lottery."
Take for instance the recent fascination with television talk shows. On these programs we learn more than we want to about dysfunctional families, dysfunctional individuals, murder and mayhem. Even our print media proclaims our atrocities toward one another each day on their front pages. Yet Jackson wrote "The Lottery" in 1948—before gang violence, teen suicides, the threat of nuclear war, and handgun crimes reached epidemic proportions. Was Jackson looking into the future of the American society?
It has been noted that Jackson saw herself as a psychic even as a young girl. She had read more than her fair share of books dealing with witchcraft and the occult and wrote about the Salem witch trials. But, perhaps more than having clairvoyant powers, Jackson had an ability to see our present in our past. She understood that barbaric rituals once used to sustain the community in a harsh environment were often continued to enact a sense of unity and history within the community, even if they were no longer necessary.
Geoffrey Wolff, in an article in The New Leader, sees the communal bond as coming from a sort of democratic misconduct. He writes, "The story seems perfectly true. A sense of community is won at a price, and communal guilt and fear are seen as more binding than communal love." Certainly Jackson's story could be true. From the exactness of the June 27th date in the first line to the myriad details of the environment and its inhabitants, one can picture herself or himself in similar surroundings. Most of us have "stood together ... [and] greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip" before joining the rest of our family at a social gathering. Jackson even lets us know the habits of Mr. Summers and how he ''was very good at all this, in his clean white shirt and blue jeans." We know the conversations of "planting and rain, tractors and taxes" of the men and the mundane housekeeping details of the women. Through these details Jackson allows us to identify with the town's lottery day, and to feel as if we are a part of their community.
We also see the fear of the townspeople. We see it in the way the summer vacation's "liberty sat uneasily on most" of the schoolchildren, and again in the uneasy hesitation before Mr. Martin and his son Baxter volunteer to help Mr. Summers stir the papers. The fear becomes more noticeable during the drawing when people were "wetting their lips, not looking around'' and holding "the small folded papers in their large hands, turning them over and over nervously." The fear is blatantly apparent once the Hutchinson family had been chosen and Nancy's friends "breathed heavily as she went forward." But, what we do not see is a sense of guilt in the townspeople to which Wolfe refers. Instead, we see Mr. Summers teaching Davy, the youngest of the Hutchinsons, how to participate in the ritual. We see the exuberantly grateful behavior of Nancy and Bill Jr., the other Hutchinson children, as they "both beamed and laughed, turning around to the crowd and holding their slips of paper above their heads." They are certainly old enough to know that one from their family will be chosen as the sacrificial lamb, yet they show no remorse or guilt that it is not them. We even see that someone gives "little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles" with which he can stone his mother. Perhaps then, the sense of guilt may be felt more by the reader of the story. The narrative technique used by Jackson helps the reader identify early on with the townspeople. When the story ends, the reader is then angered and feels that she or he has participated in the stoning through his or her identification with the characters.
It is the scapegoating of Tess Hutchinson that appalls us in the same way we are appalled by the atrocities we witness on the nightly news. Lenemaja Friedman writes in her book entitled Shirley Jackson that "the lottery may be symbolic of any of a number of social ills that mankind blindly perpetuates.'' Perhaps it is because Jackson has managed to identify with those who do the scapegoating that so much has been written about the story. Each critic tries to see something new and tie the story to his or her views of the world.
Peter Kosenko, for instance, writes an extensive analysis in New Orleans Review in which he suggests that ''The Lottery'' serves as an analogy of an "essentially capitalist" social order and ideology. This theory can be seen as viable if one studies the economic and political structures of Marxism and capitalism. On the other hand, critics with more of a sociological bent, such as Carol Cleveland, view the story as a fable. In her essay in And Then There Were Nine ... More Women of Mystery, Cleveland says Jackson depicts American society as ''acting collectively and purposefully, like a slightly preoccupied lynch mob." With this interpretation, greed and corruption become collective characteristics of a society. Still others, wielding a historical perspective, tie the theme of "The Lottery" to the Bible or the Salem witch trials. In particular these critics often mention Jesus' proclamation "let those of you without sin cast the first stone," or the fact that Jackson jokingly claimed that she was the only practicing witch in New England. Others examine the story from a feminist perspective. They criticize the patriarchal nature of the village and point out that the goal of the sacrifice was "to contain the potentially disruptive force of an awakened female sexuality," as Fritz Oehlschlaeger states in Essays in Literature.
How then is one to really understand this powerful story? Perhaps on the most basic level, it can be viewed as a story of man's inhumanity toward man which permeates even the most outwardly looking pleasant places. Jackson, who lived for a time in Bennington, Vermont, said after the publication of "The Lottery'' that she used the town and its inhabitants as models for the story. Yet Bennington was and still is a well-to-do town in southwestern Vermont. It boasts affluent families and convenient access to New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Scores of tourists travel its roads in the fall, gazing at autumn leaves against a backdrop of beautiful Green Mountains. Bennington was not evil. From where then does the pervasive evil come?
Jackson takes pains in her story to let the reader understand that the yearly stoning was a longstanding ritual. She mentions that the "original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago," and "so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded." Although a ritual is any activity that is followed on a regular basis, we most often think of them as ceremonial, religious activities. In fact, Jackson points us in this direction when Old Man Warner states, "There used to be a saying about Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon." This statement reminds readers of what they have learned about ancient sacrifices made in the name of various gods. It has been almost two thousand years since the Christians were sacrificed to the lions in Rome; but some cultures still believe that sacrifices made to the gods will provide them with healthy crops. Although several critics have noted the lack of religion in any of Jackson's work, one is left to wonder whether Jackson is condemning the hypocrisy of present day religions which espouse the "Golden Rule." Certainly, after reading the story, one wonders where current day religious principles are in this small pastoral community. How is it that an entire village can so complacently stone to death one of its own each year? More importantly, how can so many towns participate in the same ritual? Although Mrs. Adams offers some hope when she says that "some places have already quit lotteries," Old Man Warner makes it clear that to do so would be the same as "wanting to go back to living in caves."
The fact that only men inhabit positions of responsibility in the town and the fact that only men are allowed to draw during the household choosing phase of the lottery overshadows Mrs. Adams's statement. The way the men of the village say "Glad to see your mother's got a man to do it," further emphasizes the patriarchal nature of the village, and the hopeful optimism of Mrs. Adams's remark is buried within the town's demand for tradition and ritual.
Source: Jennifer Hicks, for Short Stories for Students, Gale Research, 1997.
Jennifer Hicks is a writing instructor and director of Academic Support and Writing Assessment at Massachusetts Bay Community College in Wellesley, MA.
The Stoning of Mistress Hutchinson: Meaning and Context in "The Lottery"
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1943
In a 1979 article Richard H. Williams notes what he takes to be a "flaw" in the two-stage process by which the victim is selected in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." Readers of the story will recall that the first round of the drawing determines a household from which the victim is to be drawn; the second round, the single victim from within that household. Williams points out that under such a system ''individuals who are members of smaller families are more likely to be chosen as the sacrificial victim," and he then proposes a new plan that would keep the two-stage process but have the same effect as simply ''selecting one individual at random from the village" ["A Critique of the Sampling Plan Used in Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery,'" Journal of Modern Literature]. But perhaps instead of correcting the story's "flaws," we should look at the lottery as Jackson designs it for a key to its meaning. The nature of the process by which the victim is selected gives each woman a very clear incentive to produce the largest possible family. Each child she has gives her a better chance of surviving if the marked paper falls to her household in the first round. What I am suggesting, then, is that one way the story can be seen is as the depiction of a patriarchal society's way of controlling female sexuality. Helen Nebeker has argued that the story presents a ritual that has outlived the fertility function it once had in an earlier myth-oriented time. Such an argument overlooks the real and continuing function of the lottery as it is organized. That function remains the encouraging of fertility within marriage, along with the patriarchal domination that accompanies it.
A conflict between male authority and female resistance is subtly evident throughout "The Lottery." Early in the story, the boys make a "great pile of stones in one corner of the square," while the girls stand aside "talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders at the boys." Later, as the Hutchinsons file up to draw their papers from the box, it is a girl who whispers, "I hope it's not Nancy." This girl's expression of a purely personal feeling is perceived by Old Man Warner as a threat to the social order, as is indicated by his bitterly exclaiming, "It's not the way it used to be," when presumably everyone subordinated personal feelings to the social demands of the ritual. It is also a woman, Mrs. Adams, who presents the story's most significant challenge to the lottery. When at one point her husband Mr. Adams remarks that ''over in the North village they're talking of giving up the lottery," Old Man Warner gives vent to a tirade on the folly of departing from what has always served its purpose. Mr. Adams makes no response, but his wife does, pointing out to the Old Man that "some places have already quit lotteries," an oblique but nevertheless real gesture of resistance. That Jackson wants us to read Mrs. Adams's statement as a gesture of resistance is reinforced by what she does with the Adamses at the end of the story. Mr. Adams is at the front of the crowd of villagers as they set upon Tessie Hutchinson. No mention, however, is made of Mrs. Adams's being involved in the stoning.
There is a strong pattern of detail in the story, then, suggesting that those who are most discomfited by, or resistant to, the lottery are women. On the other hand, men control the lottery. Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves are its official priestly administrators, and when they need help, they inquire whether any of the "fellows" might want to give a hand. The lottery is arranged by families and households, women being assigned to the households of their husbands, who draw for them in the initial round. That the society is a heavily patriarchal one is suggested in many other ways as well. As the people gather at the outset of the story, the women stand "by their husbands," and Jackson sharply distinguishes female from male authority: when Mrs. Martin calls her son Bobby, he "ducked under his mother's grasping hand and ran, laughing, back to the pile of stones," but when "his father spoke up sharply," Bobby "came quickly and took his place between his father and his oldest brother." Later when Mrs. Hutchinson complains that the draw has been unfair, her husband tersely and authoritatively commands her, "Shut up, Tessie." And when it becomes clear that Tessie has drawn the marked paper, Bill "forced the slip of paper out of her hand" and "held it up" for the crowd to see. The details Jackson chooses to describe the administrator of the lottery, Mr. Summers, and his wife further clarify the nature of male power and female submission in the lottery's community. Mr. Summers is given his position because people feel "sorry for him" as one who "had no children" and whose "wife was a scold." The woman who is without children is dismissed as a "scold," a challenge to male authority. The childless man, on the other hand, is elevated to a place of special responsibility and even sanctity....
Jackson had a clear precedent in New England history of ritual, collective murder in which women responded to the pressures of male authority by betraying one another: the trial and execution of the Salem witches. Some years after she wrote "The Lottery,'' Jackson wrote about the witchcraft hysteria in a book for adolescents called The Witchcraft of Salem Village.
Some of the similarities between that book and the story are so close as to suggest that the witch trials may have been in Jackson's mind when she was writing "The Lottery." The description of people gathering for the first day's examination of the witches, for instance, closely parallels the opening of "The Lottery": "By early morning, almost the entire population of the village was assembled, the grownups talking anxiously and quietly together, the children running off down the road and back again, with wild excited shouts." As the lottery is conducted by a pair of men, so the witch examinations are presided over by a pair of magistrates, one of whom, Hathorne, is clearly, like Mr. Summers, in control. In addition, Jackson's explanation of how the delusion began could apply equally well to the reasons behind the lottery's continuing hold on its people. Discussing the role of Mr. Paris, minister in Salem village and father of one of the children believed to be afflicted by the witches, Jackson remarks: ''No one dared to leave the only protection offered the people—the protection of Mr. Paris and their church. Eventually they came to believe that if they worked together wholeheartedly and without mercy they could root out the evil already growing among them." These lines reiterate the central, terrifying import of' "The Lottery'': that people can be brought to work together wholeheartedly and without mercy if they believe that their protection depends upon it.
A very important similarity between Massachusetts at the time of the witchcraft hysteria and the village of Jackson's story lies in the relations of power between men and women. As in Jackson's village, all power in the witchcraft trials lay with men: Mr. Paris; Magistrates Hathorne and Corwin; Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth; Judges James Russell, Isaac Addington, Major Samuel Appleton, and Captain Samuel Sewall. The "afflicted" in the trial were girls, who, like Tessie Hutchinson, responded to the pressure of male authority by betraying others of their own sex. Although Jackson does not include specific demographic information about the witches in her book on Salem, it is worth adding that Tessie Hutchinson conforms rather well to the profile of women found to be witches. Carol Karlsen has shown that the group most vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft included women between the ages of forty and sixty, or past the prime childbearing years. Accused women in this age group were also more likely to be executed than younger women suspected of witchcraft. The ages of Tessie's four children indicate that she is past the years of her peak fertility. Jackson does not give us all these ages specifically, but we do know that Tessie has a daughter old enough to be married, a son whose "overlarge" feet and order in the lottery mark him as an adolescent, a twelve-year-old daughter Nancy, and a boy so young that he must be helped to draw his piece of paper. Tessie is, then, both a woman approaching middle age and one who has had recent difficulty in conceiving children, as the age gap between Nancy and little Dave indicates. I am not arguing that there is collusion between the men who administer the lottery and Bill Hutchinson to eliminate Tessie because she has passed the peak years of childbearing. What I am suggesting, however, is this: that given the purpose of fertility within marriage that the design of the lottery unquestionably fosters, Tessie is an extremely appropriate victim.
It might be objected to my line of argument that the lottery also apparently has male victims. But such is obviously a necessary part of the process by which it retains its hold over the people who participate in it. A lottery that killed only women over forty could hardly expect to retain popular support for long, at least in part because it would lose its mystery. The lottery must appear to be fair, and it must give the villagers the sense of being narrowly spared by a mysterious power and thus justified. Still I would insist that we cannot discount Tessie's charge that the lottery is not fair. On one level, as John H. Williams has pointed out, the lottery is indeed unfair; its two-stage design means that the selection of a victim is not a purely random process. Moreover, we cannot deny Tessie's charge by saying that all the operations of the lottery appear to be fairly handled, for an obviously flawed lottery would neither mystify the villagers nor interest the reader. Neither can we argue for its fairness by saying that no one, other than Tessie, comments on any unfairness, for obviously everyone has a very strong stake in believing it was conducted fairly. In short, if the lottery is unfair, it is reasonable to assume that its lack of fairness would be evident only to the victim.
A reading of the story in the several contexts I have supplied here dramatically underscores what is evident from the design of the lottery itself: that its primary social consequence involves women's turning over the control of their fertility to men. Jackson depicts a society in which authority is male, potential resistance female. As in the history of Anne Hutchison and The Scarlet Letter, women in "The Lottery'' represent the personal, the conviction that, as Michael Colacurcio has said of Hester Prynne, life is more than "the sum of its legally regulated outward works." The young girl's simple hope that the victim not be her friend Nancy is the force that would destroy the lottery, as Old Man Warner recognizes. Suppression of the personal is the function of the lottery, which it accomplishes primarily by causing women to submit control of their sexuality to men of secular and priestly authority. The design of the lottery is without flaw; it serves perfectly the patriarchal purpose of denying women consciousness by insisting that they remain part of nature, part of the fertile earth itself....
Source: Fritz Oehlschlaeger, "The Stoning of Mistress Hutchinson: Meaning and Context in 'The Lottery,'" in Essays in Literature, Vol. XV, No. 2, Fall, 1988, pp. 259-65.
On the Morning of June 28, 1948, and "The Lottery"
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1601
On the morning of June 28, 1948, I walked down to the post office in our little Vermont town to pick up the mail. I was quite casual about it, as I recall—I opened the box, took out a couple of bills and a letter or two, talked to the postmaster for a few minutes, and left, never supposing that it was the last time for months that I was to pick up the mail without an active feeling of panic. By the next week I had had to change my mailbox to the largest one in the post office, and casual conversation with the postmaster was out of the question, because he wasn't speaking to me. June 28, 1948, was the day The New Yorker came out with a story of mine in it. It was not my first published story, nor my last, but I have been assured over and over that if it had been the only story I ever wrote or published, there would be people who would not forget my name.
I had written the story three weeks before, on a bright June morning when summer seemed to have come at last, with blue skies and warm sun and no heavenly signs to warn me that my morning's work was anything but just another story. The idea had come to me while I was pushing my daughter up the hill in her stroller—it was, as I say, a warm morning, and the hill was steep, and beside my daughter the stroller held the day's groceries—and perhaps the effort of that last fifty yards up the hill put an edge to the story; at any rate, I had the idea fairly clearly in my mind when I put my daughter in her playpen and the frozen vegetables in the refrigerator, and, writing the story, I found that it went quickly and easily, moving from beginning to end without pause. As a matter of fact, when I read it over later I decided that except for one or two minor corrections, it needed no changes, and the story I finally typed up and sent off to my agent the next day was almost word for word the original draft. This, as any writer of stories can tell you, is not a usual thing. All I know is that when I came to read the story over I felt strongly that I didn't want to fuss with it. I didn't think it was perfect, but I didn't want to fuss with it. It was, I thought, a serious, straightforward story, and I was pleased and a little surprised at the ease with which it had been written; I was reasonably proud of it, and hoped that my agent would sell it to some magazine and I would have the gratification of seeing it in print.
My agent did not care for the story, but—as she said in her note at the time—her job was to sell it, not to like it. She sent it at once to The New Yorker, and about a week after the story had been written I received a telephone call from the fiction editor of The New Yorker; it was quite clear that he did not really care for the story, either, but The New Yorker was going to buy it. He asked for one change—that the date mentioned in the story be changed to coincide with the date of the issue of the magazine in which the story would appear, and I said of course. He then asked, hesitantly, if I had any particular interpretation of my own for the story; Mr. Harold Ross, then the editor of The New Yorker, was not altogether sure that he understood the story, and wondered if I cared to enlarge upon its meaning. I said no. Mr. Ross, he said, thought that the story might be puzzling to some people, and in case anyone telephoned the magazine, as sometimes happened, or wrote in asking about the story, was there anything in particular I wanted them to say? No, I said, nothing in particular; it was just a story I wrote.
I had no more preparation than that. I went on picking up the mail every morning, pushing my daughter up and down the hill in her stroller, anticipating pleasurably the check from The New Yorker, and shopping for groceries. The weather stayed nice and it looked as though it was going to be a good summer. Then, on June 28, The New Yorker came out with my story.
Things began mildly enough with a note from a friend at The New Yorker: "Your story has kicked up quite a fuss around the office," he wrote. I was flattered; it's nice to think that your friends notice what you write. Later that day there was a call from one of the magazine's editors; they had had a couple of people phone in about my story, he said, and was there anything I particularly wanted him to say if there were any more calls? No, I said, nothing particular; anything he chose to say was perfectly all right with me; it was just a story.
I was further puzzled by a cryptic note from another friend: "Heard a man talking about a story of yours on the bus this morning," she wrote. "Very exciting. I wanted to tell him I knew the author, but after I heard what he was saying I decided I'd better not.''
One of the most terrifying aspects of publishing stories and books is the realization that they are going to be read, and read by strangers. I had never fully realized this before, although I had of course in my imagination dwelt lovingly upon the thought of the millions and millions of people who were going to be uplifted and enriched and delighted by the stories I wrote. It had simply never occurred to me that these millions and millions of people might be so far from being uplifted that they would sit down and write me letters I was downright scared to open; of the three-hundred-odd letters that I received that summer I can count only thirteen that spoke kindly to me, and they were mostly from friends. Even my mother scolded me: "Dad and I did not care at all for your story in The New Yorker," she wrote sternly, "it does seem, dear, that this gloomy kind of story is what all you young people think about these days. Why don't you write something to cheer people up?"
By mid-July I had begun to perceive that I was very lucky indeed to be safely in Vermont, where no one in our small town had ever heard of The New Yorker, much less read my story. Millions of people, and my mother, had taken a pronounced dislike to me.
The magazine kept no track of telephone calls, but all letters addressed to me care of the magazine were forwarded directly to me for answering, and all letters addressed to the magazine—some of them addressed to Harold Ross personally; these were the most vehement—were answered at the magazine and then the letters were sent to me in great batches, along with carbons of the answers written at the magazine. I have all the letters still, and if they could be considered to give any accurate cross section of the reading public, or the reading public of The New Yorker, or even the reading public of one issue of The New Yorker, I would stop writing now.
Judging from these letters, people who read stories are gullible, rude, frequently illiterate, and horribly afraid of being laughed at. Many of the writers were positive that The New Yorker was going to ridicule them in print, and the most cautious letters were headed, in capital letters: NOT FOR PUBLICATION or PLEASE DO NOT PRINT THIS LETTER, or, at best THIS LETTER MAY BE PUBLISHED AT YOUR USUAL RATES OF PAYMENT. Anonymous letters, of which there were a few, were destroyed. The New Yorker never published any comment of any kind about the story in the magazine, but did issue one publicity release saying that the story had received more mail than any piece of fiction they had ever published; this was after the newspapers had gotten into the act, in midsummer, with a front-page story in the San Francisco Chronicle begging to know what the story meant, and a series of columns in New York and Chicago papers pointing out that New Yorker subscriptions were being canceled right and left.
Curiously, there are three main themes which dominate the letters of that first summer—three themes which might be identified as bewilderment, speculation, and plain old-fashioned abuse. In the years since then, during which the story has been anthologized, dramatized, televised, and even—in one completely mystifying transformation—made into a ballet, the tenor of letters I receive has changed. I am addressed more politely, as a rule, and the letters largely confine themselves to questions like what does this story mean? The general tone of the early letters, however, was a kind of wide-eyed, shocked innocence. People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.
Source: Shirley Jackson, "On the Morning of June 28, 1948, and 'The Lottery,'" in The Story and Its Writer. An lntroduction to Short Fiction, edited by Ann Charters, St. Martin's Press, 1983, pp. 1192-95.
Jackson's "The Lottery"
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541
Shirley Jackson's provocative "The Lottery" is a story in which anthropology provides the chief symbol. Frazer's The Scapegoat (The Golden Bough, Part VI, 3rd ed., 1913) makes it clear that the lottery is Miss Jackson's modern representation of the primitive annual scapegoat rite. The story imagines that, in some typical American community, the rite still flourishes.
The story begins on the morning of June 27. (Frazer: the rite often occurred at the time of the summer solstice.) The first to gather at the square where the lottery is to be held are the children. School recently over, they take to their new liberty uneasily, gathering together quietly at first before breaking into boisterous play, their talk ''still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands.'' (Frazer: the rite was commonly preceded or followed by a period of general license, during which ordinary restraints were thrown aside and offenses went unpunished.)
The scapegoat rite had a double purpose: to exorcise the evils of the old year by transferring them to some inanimate or animate objects, and with that "solemn and public banishment of evil spirits" [The Golden Bough] to appease the forces of the new year, to insure fertility. Primitive man, it seems, could not distinguish natural from moral phenomena: the forces of the seasons had to be placated. Similarly, the men of "The Lottery" (suburbanite and rural) cannot distinguish natural from social phenomena: anybody criticizing the social order works against the natural rightness of things. The evidence: on the public square, after the children have assembled, the men come—"Soon the men began to gather, surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes." Old Man Warner says: "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.'"
The lottery is conducted by Mr. Summers, "who had time and energy to devote to civic activities. He was a roundfaced jovial man and he ran the coal business, and people were sorry for him because he had no children and his wife was a scold." Summers is the appropriate leader of the rite, as his name would indicate, as his job would too, the providing of fuel, but who is more barren, more unhappy, more willing ''to shift the burden of his pains and sorrows to another, who will suffer them in his stead" [The Golden Bough]?
The other characters are typical: Old Man Warner, the reactionary advocate of the lottery; Mr. Hutchinson, the typical citizen, disliking the lottery, but accepting it as inevitable; Mrs. Delacroix, the uneasy outsider, the most friendly to the destined victim before the lottery and the most ferocious in her attack afterwards.
The theme of the story: beneath our civilized surface, patterns of savage behavior are at work. The theme is mirrored in the gruesome unfolding of the lottery rite. However, Miss Jackson is optimistic: some villages have abandoned the lottery; and the children, unlike their elders, preserve an uncontaminated affection for one another.
Source: Seymour Lainhoff, "Jackson's 'The Lottery,'" in Explicator, Vol. XII, No. 5, 1954, p. 34.