Shirley Jackson's the lottery

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For a long time in history, culture has established its cultural activities based on norms and customs handed down from generation to generation. The propagation of certain characteristics through generations happens in such a way that there is absolutely no risk that any member will doubt the validity or significance of the practice. However, in today's educated period, it is important to reexamine the rituals that are nurtured as a contemporary part of life. In her book titles The Lottery, Shirley Jackson describes the story of a cultural tradition where villagers would gather and participate in a long tradition of choosing a fateful family whose member would be stoned as norm. A closer analysis of the themes in the story makes one realize that the story also serves as a symbol and a religious background that can be paralleled to history through the illustration of archaic traditions that have been witnessed for decades.

One example of an extension of the plot in The Lottery is the consideration of Holocaust Encyclopedia’s “Introduction to the Holocaust.” The web source describes the German incidence where Adolf Hitler and his official decided to target anyone who appeared to have a contrary opinion to that of the General. Political and religious differences meant that many were put to death because of the stands that they held following the holocaust "Introduction to the Holocaust." It is apparent that there was no significant reason for killing except from the realization that the genocide was used to communicate to those who were still adamant to join in the General’s thinking. The source material covers a theme that parallels the one explored by Jackson in her story The Lottery. In a similar fashion, death of a family member every time the lottery was being held was used to indicate that for a long time, genocide and death has been used to justify social stands. Overall, therefore, one would understand that just as genocide has been a key part of defining historical events, the villagers in The Lottery also believed that the deaths were historical and were preserved.

The other correlations that can be drawn from Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and history parallels is Ritual Theory Ritual Practice. The book by Catherine Bells underscores the fact that the idea of engaging in rituals is in many instances a bad idea as it may not be linked with any purpose. The author quotes that “Ritual is pure activity, without meaning or goal” meaning that in many traditions, rituals only exist to impress the community with no definite benefits or objectives to the members who practice them. The idea highlighted by Bell is similar to the experience the reader gets when they explore the tradition of engaging in the lottery. The acts of killing a family member appears to have no traceable meaning because it is pointless to kills someone without any immoral act or engaging in a societal wrongdoing. Instead, one realizes that the villagers were only focused on ensuring that they engage in what they inherited regardless of whether it was meaningful to them or not.

It could be further noted that Shirley Jackson coverage of the lottery tradition is similar to the explanation from the article by Richard Libowitz in Holocast Studies. The author explains the Second World War incidence in German forces engaged in killing six million European Jews (Libowitz 1). Many people were aware that it was happening and as time passed, they realized that the genocide incidence was only getting worse as more people ended up victims of Adolf Hitler’s ruling. It would be expected that the Americans and the world in General would respond to the crisis and do something about the incidence. Instead, no one interrupted and as a result, the holocaust went on as the world stood silently and let nature take its course as many people lost their lives. The significant aspect about this incidence is, however the realization that it constitutes one of the major themes in The Lottery. The tragic events that took place in Germany ended up in the loss of lives just as the lottery had become a culture of stoning but no one appeared to perceive it as a problem as intervene. The impression, therefore, is that in many cases, humans tend to be less critical about the issues that matter because of hypocrisy.

It can also be deducted that Shirley’s The Lottery is a book that covered the theme of mob violence in manner that is parallel to the historical records in literature. The journal article in the Science News-Letter titled “Would You Join a Riotous Lynching Mob 275” explains that when it comes to being in a mob and participating in acts of violence, it usually does not matter what kind of person you are, you tend to participate “Would You Join a Riotous Lynching Mob 275” It is much easier to do something violent and illegal when you are with a lot of other people doing it and the same applies to the incidence in The Lottery. it shows that when a huge group of people get together to do something it’s a lot easier to do. In The Lottery, everyone starts to throw rocks like it’s nothing. They murder someone cold blooded because everyone else is participating. If they made one person do it themselves, they probably would not be able to or it would be a whole lot harder and emotional to that person.

Another article that is appropriate in the understanding of the role of archaic traditions in blindfolding humans from reasoning is by Donald Crawford titled “Conforming to Custom.” According to the author, most of the time people tend to conform to something just because everyone does it (Crawford 355). It is a custom and for no good reason to justify why things are done the way they are done. People come together and say “you can’t do that” and if asked why not? They don’t really know why not. The case is similar when one explores The Lottery where the whole village comes together to murder a human being for no good reason. It’s a symbol of conformity. The only logic they have is because “we’ve been doing this forever” and there is no way we can stop our traditions regardless of how unethical they are to an outsider.

It can also be inferred from the book that using culture as a scapegoat is an inherent trait that has existed for generations as Hunter Ballew explains. The journal article titled “The New Mathematics as Scapegoat” is a piece of literature that explains that humans tend to avoid putting themselves to blame for a wrongdoing and instead will opt for someone to bear the blame. Baller explains that nearly all adults tend to put an emphasis on saying that kids are so bad at math and in most things in general compared to adult’s and their generation. They say we don’t learn anything nowadays, and they have been saying this generation after generation. Adults use this as a scapegoat from blaming the teachers and everyone else but themselves. The idea is similar in The Lottery because the villagers in The Lottery basically used it as a scapegoat. No one really was to blame for anything, but people took all of their anger and put it towards that one person they for some reason thought was to blame for everything.

The subject of execution is also described to trace its origins from a long time in history and is unlikely to end soon. It is undisputed that scholars have been studying stoning and punishments for as long as they could remember. They believe that most of the time, stoning is for punishments for terrible crime that would affect a whole community, not just crime caused to one person. The author notes that “Modern scholars have reasonably inferred from the circumstances of specific stoning’s and from the nature of the act itself that stoning was a communal gesture appropriate for punishing those who had caused harm to the community as a whole” (Rosivach 235). It thus implies that the stoning the reader experiences in The Lottery is one of the many practices that humans have been accustomed to and thus have a place in the society.

The Lottery also explains that sacrificing humans has been seen as a way of relating human experiences to the gods. Klawans explains that the point of sacrificing someone back in the day would sometimes have to do with one man being a resemblance of god. After someone is sacrificed they try to keep those feelings of god with them. The author asserts that “one organizing principle is the concern with imitating god, and the other is the concern with attracting and maintaining the presence of god within the community.” (Klawans 139). The case is similar in The Lottery because there was no other logical reason other than tradition. However, the reader can make assumptions that the killing had something to do with religion and sacrifices that happened. The relevance of this feature is that it explains the reason that some people sacrificed others back in the day.

The Bible can also be used as a proof of the existence of symbolism in The Lottery with the black box being of interest. The black box carried by Mr. Summers on the day of the execution appears to have an impression because focus is placed on it from the beginning. In the bible, darkness also follows a similar trend as noted in Isaiah 45:7 where it is stated that “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” The understanding is that Lucifer became the first dark thing to exist after he committed spiritual suicide when he decided to sin his light turned to darkness. It is thus noted that the color black and its meaning go all the way back in the bible. The box that they used in The Lottery was black and for good reason, it was a box that resembled sin and death as Tessie Hutchinson ended up being a victim of the perceived societal sin.

The last feature that is apparent in The Lottery that is confirmatory of the historical and religious basis of cultural practice is the element of communism. In the writing of the web-based resources, Joyce and Latham place an emphasis on Senator Joseph McCathy’s witch-hunt. The authors state that “McCarthy enthusiastically agreed and took advantage of the nation’s wave of fanatic terror against communism, and emerged on February 9, 1950, claiming he had a list of 205 people in the State Department who were known members of the American Communist Party” (Oh and Latham). As expected, everyone was terrified of communism when it was starting to spread. This ended up causing McCarthy’s witch hunt which targeted 205 people that were members of the American Communist Party. The parallel comes when one realizes that this all happened around the same time The Lottery took place. Everyone began conforming to others and did the same things others did out of fear as they lottery was perceived to be usual.

In summary, The Lottery is a plot that typifies human behavior as it follows that the tradition was being practiced despite the fact that it was archaic. Any other stories in history prove that humans have for a long time fallen victims of their hypocrisy and ignorance by following through rituals without questioning the foundation and significance of engaging in them. It is thus a challenge to the current Information Age to critically evaluate the need for culture and the role it plays in ensuring that the society engages in an ethical and moral manner.

Works Cited

Ballew, Hunter. “The New Mathematics as Scapegoat.” The Elementary School Journal, vol. 78, no. 2, 1977, pp. 107–109. JSTOR, 09 July 2017.

Bell, Catherine M. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. N.p.: Oxford U Press, 2009. Print.

Crawford, Donald W. “Conforming to Custom.” Mind, vol. 80, no. 319, 1971, pp. 354–364. JSTOR, 09 July 2017.

"Introduction to the Holocaust." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum., n.d. Web. 25 June 2017.

Isaiah. The King James study Bible: King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008. Print.

Klawans, Jonathan. “Pure Violence: Sacrifice and Defilement in Ancient Israel.” The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 94, no. 2, 2001, pp. 133–155. JSTOR, 09 July 2017.

Libowitz, Richard. “Holocaust Studies.” Modern Judaism, vol. 10, no. 3, 1990, pp. 271–281. JSTOR, 09 July 2017.

Oh, Joyce, and Amanda Latham. "The Cold War Museum." Cold War Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 July 2017.

Rosivach, Vincent J. “Execution by Stoning in Athens.” Classical Antiquity, vol. 6, no. 2, 1987, pp. 232–248. JSTOR, 09 July 2017

“Would You Join a Riotous Lynching Mob?” The Science News-Letter, vol. 25, no. 684, 1934, pp. 317–317. JSTOR, 09 July 2017.

September 21, 2021


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