Baylor College Medical School

THE LOTTERY by Shirley Jackson, Explain the role of mass psychology in the decision of the townspeople to participate in the stoning. Explain the role of tradition in the same decision.

the lottery

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To the reader, the entire process of the lottery is inherently unfair, unjust, unthinkable. Its ritual, formally grounded in longtime tradition, not just in the town but elsewhere, does not mask the mindless evil of the act. The individual to be stoned to death is selected at random. There exists no rational cause or justification for singling out one person in the village to murder each year, though we do not know why the people do it or if they have any justifications for doing it. When Tess's death is imminent she recognizes most of all the reader's perspective as a matter of basic human nature to be concerned with random violence: "It isn't fair, it isn't right" (Jackson 219). By then, her fate has already been sealed.

The problem here is that in the town, the random violence is not deemed unfair. If someone must be stoned, perhaps the random selection is the most fair method of doing something which could never be fair to the victim. Tradition and superstition (for it would be folly to try to stop engaging in the tradition) seem to make sense even if people cannot articulate why.

Thus, Jackson not only demonstrates the power of conformity, given that none of the townspeople protest or question the ritual, but also the human capacity for mindless brutality and evil. "The Lottery" takes the theme of conformity, as found in "Flower Garden," to its violent extreme. No one in the town is willing to voice the clear and rational opinion that the lottery is an inhumane exercise in pointless brutality. Old Man Warner dismisses the notion of discarding the lottery as preposterous. "'There's always been a lottery,' he added petulantly" (215). Even the young children, who are ordinarily exempt from Jackson's critical eye of suburbia and society at large, cheerfully attend the lottery and take part in the stoning of Tess Hutchinson. "The children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles" (218). To the townspeople, the thought of dispensing with the tradition of the lottery is inconceivable, because they are too steeped in conformity to consider breaking tradition.