Traditions are important and very current in our society today. They create a predictable, dynamic flow that people can follow while embracing all of the cultures that came before them. Traditions have been important to the flow of society since the first civilization. They honor past ancestors by incorporating their rituals in our everyday life. This keeps family and community lineages strong by participating in the same traditions. In “The Lottery” their tradition involves drawing slips from a box and if you have the marked slip, you are stoned to death by the community. Despite the brutality of the tradition, they are very well respected in “The Lottery” due to the communities’ respect for their elders and people who had participated before them. Shirley Jackson utilizes traditions in her story to create a cautionary story tale about traditions and how they cannot be blindly followed. Although some people are reluctant to participate, respect and history keep the tradition alive. The importance of revising traditions when they become outdated is what Shirley Jackson is conveying in her short story.
Shirley Jackson incorporates this theme into her story through the conversations of Old Man Warner and the townspeople. While the townspeople are anticipating the drawing, Old Man Warner talks to them about the lottery and how people who have done away with the lottery are foolish. He calls these people “Pack of crazy fools”(Jackson para. 3), expressing his belief in the lottery keeping the town civilized and in order. This perception of the lottery is taught to younger members of the community. By making children participate, it keeps the lineage of the tradition strong. The idea that everyone grows up with the same beliefs is what keeps this tradition alive. As time goes on, the ones becoming elders in the community will act as Old Man Warner does, which is the danger of traditions, the continuous cycle of blindly following through with them. The hateful personality of their eldest man in the town goes to show how blind followers can be while following through with traditions.
The main factor that contributes to the continuous cycle of a brutal tradition is brainwashing. When mentioning life without the lottery, Old Man Warner tells the people “First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns”(Jackson para. 3), which creates imagery for the community when they imagine a life with no lottery. The townspeople are so brainwashed by the tradition that they cannot see the reality of what is happening. They are told that without the lottery the town would result in chaos and they would live like cavemen. The townspeople have only ever known was that the lottery was a good thing and meant a successful year was a head of them. This contributes to the irony in “The Lottery” by depicting an uncivilized community without the lottery, when in reality the villages getting rid of the lottery are becoming more progressed. This shows the vulnerability of the townspeople, believing that what Old Man Warner is telling them is true and that their lives would be worse without the lottery. Although, there are some in the village that believed differently and thought life without the lottery would be better off. These were shamed by Old Man Warner and the rest of the town and ignored, henceforth, they reluctantly participated in the lottery.
While it is mentioned several times in the story the several aspects of the tradition that have been forgotten about and are now not a part of the tradition, people are criticized for trying to make any changes to the tradition. Old Man Warner goes on to say, “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them” (Jackson para. 3). This touches on the universal theme of every generation believing that the next is foolish and spoiled because they did not have the circumstances they had. The respect the people have for their elders comes from this theme because of the hardships the elders had endured.
Just as many aspects of the tradition have been altered, the people believe in one idea, that the lottery is a tradition and it must happen every year. As Old Man Warner says, “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”(Jackson para. 3). This phrase makes people believe the lottery is a positive thing that the community needs in order to survive through the next year. Although the phrase has no real implications towards their crop yield, it contributes to how the people are brainwashed by the tradition.
Traditions have large influences in the way people live their everyday lives. The emotional connection people feel towards traditions makes them feel safe and connected with ancestors and their community. People feel this way despite how radical the tradition may be. The violence of the lottery helps to emphasize how people can become blinded to their respective traditions and participate in something radical without moral grief. Though these people may be blinded, the respect for tradition and their elders is what powers the tradition.
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Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery”. Sakai, ENGL 105.079.SP20, posted by Paul Blom, 31 July 2020. Originally published in The New Yorker Magazine. 1948.
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