Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery Themes Literary Analysis

This is FREE sample
This text is free, available online and used for guidance and inspiration. Need a 100% unique paper? Order a custom essay.
  • Any subject
  • Within the deadline
  • Without paying in advance
Get custom essay

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” generated interest, fear, disgust, curiosity, and an array of other reactions. The story has a chilling conclusion in which readers wondered where such inhumane cultural practices existed until Shirley clarified that the story was mere fiction. The villagers seem excited, each one carrying a stone of they can manage; everyone believes they will escape the black box. One Tessie Hutchinson selects her stone as she eagerly awaits to smack but ironically it lottery falls on her family. The custom I praise-worthy until fate lands in her family and she heavily opposes the ‘unfair processes. She becomes the ‘winner’ and unfortunately gets stoned to death by villagers as custom demands. Everyone, including Tessie’s family, cast stones and the ceremony closes (Robinson, 50). These actions would normally never be accepted when performed by one, however, they were covered under the cloak of social order, therefore, were allowed. These are similar actions that have been allowed over history under the same cloak.

The reader has a calm demeanor as they go through the story as the author takes a hands-off approach. The language is simplified with a mixture of descriptions and dialogue. There is an element of suspense and tension created as the reader goes deeper. However, the narrator’s tone is calm drastically contrasting the eventual outcome. Therefore, we can say the author did not use pathos on her side due to the emotional un-involvement which is a depiction of the villagers’ demeanor and attitude.at the end of the story, the meaning is very clear- the primitivity of the bizarre cultural practices (Schofield 2018).

Imagery is seen from the beginning of the narration. The author draws the picture of the time, season, and date of the lottery. She writes “the morning of June 27th was clear and sunny with the fresh warmth of full-summer day…. Blossoming, rich green…gather in the square”(Jackson, 139). We have all the information apart from the year. the twenty-seventh day of June resonates with the seventy-seven lotteries the oldest man in the village has attended.

Through contrasts, Jackson keeps us in suspense and odds on the turn out of events. Normally, readers anticipate a closure where someone stands up against the contemporary belief and emerges victorious and alive. Another surprise is picturesque which is a calm celebratory moment and season in the village. She writes about the richness of grass and blossoming of flowers and the reader expect a story about something wonderful and nostalgic. The fact the boys are gathering stones, we expect that they are about to participate in a game, families gathering for the lottery paints an opposite picture from the outcome. In the end, we learn that the winner gets a horrifying ‘gift’ (Sari et al, 2).

The use of satire is richly employed in this short story. The villagers have a casual attitude and chat about normal things as they head to the gathering. The cracking of jokes does not depict the violent outcome awaiting one of them. This writing is placed in a ‘matter of fact’ context and only the reader is surprised with the outcome. She writes about how tiny the village was so much that the event would be ‘through in time to allow the villagers to go home for noon dinner’ (Jackson, 139). This is just another event like Haloween that is conducted by Mr. Summers.

As much as the villagers gather in excitement, deep within, they are scared and that is seen in the distance they maintain from the black box. Perhaps their ease mode and small talk is a façade to hide the anxiety and fear of the outcome. Anyone can be chosen and they even fear to assist Mr. Summers when he calls for help. For the reader, the first impression would be the tension of the villagers is because each one hopes to win. But Tessie reaction communicates otherwise when she opens her paper.

This short gothic story depicts human hypocrisy and violence especially when it is coined in the social order. Traditions and norms of values and practices are a result of societal constructs. It is hypocritical to conform without challenging or critical analysis of the implications of some practices. Just like the black box, people understand that some practices are cruel but blindly follow and celebrate in the name of preserving heritage and culture. Some practices have been handed down generations and the meaning could have lost significance along the way. For example, the Lottery was meant to sacrifice for good tidings and fat produce from the farms. But that is not even necessary considering the good weather and the blossoming fields. The villagers do not understand why, when and how such a cruel practice began but they do it anyway (Schofield 2018).

Humanity prioritizes on violence rather than rational thinking. Considering this story was written just after World War II, we can make some relations. People fought and killed each other based on varied cultures, races, nationalities and other selfish desires. We critically analyze why the world war happened, there is no reasonable answer that would arise. People forgot the ‘the original black box’ which is the symbol of respect for humanity, life, and coexistence. They can only remember to carry the stones that will kill someone forgetting that anyone can get hurt in the process to escape responsibility for the murder and outrageous tradition, everyone is tangled into the cultural practices even those closest to us like Tessie’s son. No one wants to ‘make a new box’ (Michael, 20).

The lottery is a behavior followed without caution, question, or analysis of its cruelty. Under normal circumstances, a lottery is an opportunity for luck and chance for good tidings but just like the rest of the story, the meaning is used in reverse. There is no actual meaning attached to such a practice and that is why the villagers casually gather and wish to rush through so that they can return to their normal lives. Society has become partakers of unimportant beliefs even when lives are lost in the process. The black box has an ominous symbolism because someone’s life gets sacrificed in the end. No matter how demented and deteriorated the box is, the villages are not ready to make any changes they are not sure what this box represented and if they are doing the wrong things all along. After all, Mr. Summers has been the one carrying out the rituals for decades yet he is sad, childless and in an unhappy marriage. He has nothing to lose if he twisted the rules and how come his name has never appeared all these years? (Sari et al, 3).

When individuals are driven by mainstream or groupthink, they become victims of misinterpretation and end up killing themselves. If the villages critically examined what the Lottery is about they would not tear at each other annually. The only thing they remember is that the celebration was held annually but do not know the terms or procedures because information handed down is always distorted because of media biases. It is only ‘unfair’ when we are the victims but we celebrate when casting stones at other people’s misfortunes (Landau, 21).

The three-legged stool is another symbol used by Jackson. The box enables the villagers to draw pieces of paring on the stool. Therefore, the box is the key to life and death for all people, whether good or evil for the sake of the rest. The stool is the Christian trinity, that is, the God, the Son, and The Holy Spirit. Ironically, in Christianity, the one on the cross is the way of life but for the village, it is sin, evil, and inevitable death. This represents the villagers’ manipulation of religion in support of punitive actions (Landau, 20). Hitler was able to perform horrible acts upon other humans in the name of religion. Most people find comfort in the idea of performing cruel deeds in the name of religion.

There is a conflict between individual beliefs and societal norms or practices. Tessie believed strongly and even got excited about the status quo of the lottery. When she found that her family has been chosen for the practice, she believes that her reasons are more valid than her predecessors. But as tradition demands it, democracy wins and it is wholly accepted that things remain as they are. Tessie represents individual beliefs and Old Warner is the symbol of societal norms highly exalted by the villagers. Therefore, an individual’s opinion is not enough proof to change cultural beliefs no matter how crude they are.

But again, the process was not fair and this tradition needs serious questioning. The selection process is biased considering Mr. Summers marks the papers in his coal company. No one listens to the rules meaning they do not know if this detached man has concocted his own rules to suit his desires. He leads a miserable life despite his name hence is his desire and nostalgia for this sadistic warm, blossoming and greenly event. We are not sure of Tessie’s claims but her family was not given enough time like the rest of the villages to equally select the paper (Sari et al, 5).

We do not miss a hint of humor and puns amid all the mess in the lottery. The turn of events is humorous because the predator becomes the pay and we can say ‘you got served”. Bill Hutchinson is told to go up and the pun goes unmissed in the context. Mrs. Braves and Mrs. Delacroix feel like time flies between lotteries. “Seems like we got through with the last one only last week” That is funny considering the gravity of the situation and lives at risk. Most of the names of the characters have a twisted pun behind them (Zaid and Sabah 28).

People fear changes and that is reflected in the passive stance taken by the villagers when Mr. Summers “spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box” (Jackson, 140). We find this text reveals to us how entranced the practice was in the villagers. They find change to be a threat rather than an opportunity. Even as it becomes deformed to show the distorted information the villagers believed, no one wants to break the status quo. Even the nearby villages have dropped the custom but this one wants to old tight irrespective of the devastating effects and family separation. To emphasize, Mr. Warner says “Pack of crazy fools, Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them…”(Jackson, 142) Seventy years down life, no improvement has happened in the village because they are enchanted by past crude practices. The villagers are blindly following a tradition they may not even understand what the original purpose was at this point.

It is funny that many adjustments have been made. It is absurd to ask Horace to play against the rules yet the villagers cannot even change the box. Other situations like salutes, songs, and dance have been forgotten and the box is more of a mangled piece covered with paper patches. Therefore, the rules of the game are not clear anymore but the villages are so blind they only remember to carry stones for a flimsy tradition. Many allow these types of barbaric traditions to be allowed when they are covered under the title of social order. Many horrific events have been allowed to happen even though they were carried out by large groups and no one at any point attempted to stop them. Jackson wrote about a fictional story that was oddly similar on a larger scale to the events across the world.

Works Cited

Ismael, Zaid Ibrahim, and Sabah Atallah Khalifa Ali. ” Human Rights at Stake: Shirley Jackson’s Social and Political Protest in ‘The Lottery.’” International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, no. 6, 2018, p. 28. EBSCOhost, doi:10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.7n.6p.28.

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery”. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, 6th compact edition. Edgar Roberts and Robert Zweig. Eds Pearson, 2015. pp. 139-144

Landau, Samantha. “Occult Influences in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.” 学苑= Gakuen 936 (2018): 11-21.
Robinson, Michael. “Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ and Holocaust Literature.” Humanities, no. 1, 2019, p. 35. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3390/h8010035.

Sari, Fani Alfionita, and Ajar Pradika Ananta Tur. “Reshaping the Society Face through The Culture of Horror Told in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.” NOTION: Journal of Linguistics, Literature, and Culture 1.1 (2019): 1-7.

Schofield, Libby. “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right”: The Affective Politics of Fear in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” Verso: An Undergraduate Journal of Literary Criticism 9 (2018).

Syam, Essy, and Raja Syamsidar. “The Elements of Paganism as Reflected in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”.” IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science. Vol. 175. No. 1. IOP Publishing, 2018.

Cite this paper

Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery Themes Literary Analysis. (2020, Sep 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/shirley-jacksons-the-lottery-themes/



what is the main theme of the lottery?
The main theme of The Lottery is the danger of blindly following tradition and the consequences that can result from it. It also explores the darker aspects of human nature, including violence and cruelty.
what is the theme for the lottery?
The theme of the lottery is that the past shapes the present.
We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Peter is on the line!

Don't settle for a cookie-cutter essay. Receive a tailored piece that meets your specific needs and requirements.

Check it out