Story of a Ritual Long Forgotten And Yet Continued: “The Lottery” Write Up by Ishika Dube

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson begins on the morning of June 27th when people gather around the square at 10. Children gather piles of stone in a heap, the boys are rambunctious while the girls talk among themselves. The men soon begin to gather and women share gossip. The women soon stand next to their husbands and the children reluctantly join their parents. The process for the lottery by Mr Summers who conducted the various activities for the own. It describes the box for the lottery as shabby. Soon, Mr Summer swirls the paper slips that had replaced the wooden chips. The narrator describes the various procedures of the lottery as performed in the village and how some of it had been lost through the ages and some of it was confused. Just before the lottery shortly begins, Mrs Hutchinson comes in late, having forgotten that it was the day for the lottery. She talks with Mrs Delacroix for a while and joins her family. Mr Summer jokes about her coming late and the crowd had a moment of laughter. Mr Summer soon calls on some families asking about who is drawing for them. After they settle everything, the lottery begins. Mr Summer gives his orders, and he calls on the head of the families to draw on the strips and not open them until he’s done. As the lottery progresses Mr Adam talks with Old Man Warner about how some villages had stopped the lottery. Warner condemns them and says that it is the younger generation that is enforcing the change and that they would now like to live in caves. It soon comes out that the Hutchinson’s have got the blackened strip. Mrs Hutchinson yells at Mr Summers for not letting him get enough time to choose. The process goes on and the officiant asks about the members of the family and if they have any other households. Tessie insists that their daughter and her husband should join in. But, Mr Summer objects saying that they with the husband’s family. The lottery is now conducted with the individual members of the family and this time, Tessie gets the paper. She bemoans her faith. The officiant asks them to make it quick. The villagers gather their stones from the piles made by the boys or the ones on the ground and start hitting Tessie. Someone even gives her younger son some pebbles to aim at her. Stones start hitting her and Tessie keeps on yelling that “it isn’t fair”. 

The chronic tension of the story would be the beginning of the lottery itself. The acute tension would be the Hutchinson’s being selected in the lottery. 

The first technique that I tracked would be the reaction of Tessie and others towards her throughout the story. (In purple) It is interesting to see the change of emotions mainly in Tessie but also in others around her through the process of the lottery. They begin from being friendly and good-natured and then to Tessie loudly yelling about how it isn’t fair and her friends and even her son picking up or being given pebbles and stones to stone her to death with no consequences. The author does an interesting job of portraying emotions of a character not unlike when faced with situations of life and literal death even though it is the third person. The tone goes from the jovial nature in joining in community activities to the morbid participation in stone a person to death as a community for a ritual that has been held on so tightly that it had lost its meaning. 

At first, when Tessie comes in late for the lottery she is greeted with goodwill and is joked about. She talks to Mrs Delacroix about why she was late in the first place and people let her in good-naturedly and alert about her presence to her husband. Even Mr Summer cheerfully jokes about her coming later and Tessie replies in similar nature. 

The people separated good-humoredly to let her through; two or three people said, in voices just loud enough to be heard across the crowd, “Here comes your Mrs., Hutchinson,” and “Bill, she made it after all.” Mrs. Hutchinson reached her husband, and Mr. Summers, who had been waiting, said cheerfully, “Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie.” Mrs. Hutchinson said, grinning, “Wouldn’t have had me leave m’dishes in the sink, now, would you, Joe?,” and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson’s arrival.

Tessie herself is very cheerful all throughout the lottery whilst the other women appear to be more nervous than her. She playfully orders her husband to go up there. Some chuckled at her tone. 

As the lottery commences and the Hutchinson’s get chosen, Tessie good-humoredness changes and she accuses of Mr Summer not letting her husband have more time in choosing the strips which led him to take the blackened strip. The surrounding others remain apathetic to her cause and call her out on being a spoil-sport and that they had almost chance as her. They show her no sympathy even her husband tells her to shut up. Tessie displays the emotions of a caged creature getting enclosed and frightened by the narrow lines drawn by chance holding her. 

“Be a good sport, Tessie.” Mrs Delacroix called, and Mrs Graves said, “All of us took the same chance.”

The lottery goes on and Mr Summer asks if they have any other households under their family. Tessie becoming more and more desperate yells about their daughter and her husband to improve the odds. But, the officiant refuses her request by saying that their daughter goes with her husband’s family. Now even Bill is regretful and says that there are only the two of them and only their children. The process begins again and Tessie quietly says that the process should be started over again as it wasn’t fair, her husband hadn’t been given enough time to choose. As the drawing begins again, Tessie loudly calls onto to everyone around her trying to get their attention. Even when she is called, she thinks about a moment of defiance but, ultimately submits. 

She hesitated for a minute, looking around defiantly, and then set her lips and went up to the box. She snatched a paper out and held it behind her.

Tessie is forceful and Bill has to take her slip and shows it to the people that hers is the one with the mark. 

Although the others around Tessie have a similar attitude all throughout, it is interesting to see how they are quick to pick up rocks to stone her with no regret even though they were literally talking to her moments ago. They turn a deaf ear to Tessie’s protests and advance forward with stones. They even go as forward as to arm her youngest son with pebbles to presumably her with them. The ending is the most accurate depiction of mob mentality and mass hysteria in the sense that a group of people become so wrapped up with an idea or a tradition that they refuse to look beyond it. 

Mrs Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs Dunbar. “Come on,” she said. “Hurry up.”

Mrs Dunbar had small stones in both hands, and she said, gasping for breath. “I can’t run at all. You’ll have to go ahead and I’ll catch up with you.”

The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles.

Tessie’s own attitude is interesting as it is almost presented as if she doesn’t care if somebody else is chosen even from her own family. She tries to denounce the lottery as not being fair or even trying to put her children’s name to improve her chances of not getting selected even though she willing joins it. 

Shirley Jackson provides an insight into the inner workings of a person who believes they are trapped and have no escape and tries every trick in the book to secure themselves out of the situation even though it might harm others. 

The other technique that I tracked was the descriptions of the lottery itself. (In red).  And how Jackson makes it appear so normalized until the end where Tessie gets stoned to death. She also foreshadows through the hesitance and Tessie’s scared attitude. She takes something that is a common event to get something as a prize to making it into something morbid. The events into itself link the holding onto traditions that have lost their meaning and use, distorting it until it is shapeless and then calling it a tradition instead of changing it. Shirley Jackson has also weighed into the meaning of her story and has said that she hoped that graphic dramatization of such a ritual would show as to pointless violence and general inhumanity in people’s life. Such can also be seen in some of the morbid received by Jackson where people had asked whether it was real and if they could go and watch it. 

The story begins with giving the feel that the lottery itself is a community event where people gather with their families to draw. 

The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock.

It is also remarked that many villages had the tradition of the lottery and it generally varied from one to two days. All the people in the families gathered together waiting for it to start. The children often collected the stones in advance for an advantage to start the stoning quickly. And just like any community event, the people jovially talked together. 

The ritual began as soon as Mr Summer walked onto the square. Although the original paraphernalia had been lost, the box for the ritual had been in use for a long time. It was said to be made of all the old pieces of the lottery. It is almost symbolic of the ritual itself as most of traditions centred around it were forgotten but, it was still used as the gory ritual of stoning. A ritual which had lost its meaning but, held onto in the name of tradition. Mr Summer had though been successful in bringing change by putting in use paper slips instead of wood chips as the population was growing and they needed something that would fit in the box. 

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.

The night before the lottery, Mr Summers and Mr Graves made the slips and then the box was kept in the former’s coal company for security and then taken to the village square. Other times of the year, it was kept in different places every year. 

The rest of the year, the box was put away, sometimes one place, sometimes another; it had spent one year in Mr Graves’ barn and another year underfoot in the post office, and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there.

There were even more procedures to go through before it officially started. The heads of the family had to be counted, then the members themselves and Mr Summer had to be sworn in as officiant of the event by the postmaster. There also used to be a recital of some sort wherein the officiant went around chanting but, only a few remembered. This muddled recollection of the tradition made up most of the ceremony. There was also a ritual salute which was deemed unnecessary and was toned down to the officiant greeting each person as they went to collect the slips. 

there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory, tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this part of the ritual had been allowed to lapse.

People who were absent had to be drawn in by someone. Mr Summer went around asking people who were drawing for some respective families. Mr Summer explained the rules of the people although only very few listened properly as they were fully versed with the ceremony. The lottery began with people picking up strips for their family from the box and the family with blackened strip was chosen for the next round. 

After that, there was a long pause, a breathless pause, until Mr Summers, holding his slip of paper in the air, said, “All right, fellows.” For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saying. “Who is it?,” “Who’s got it?,” “Is it the Dunbars?,” “Is it the Watsons?” Then the voices began to say, “It’s Hutchinson. It’s Bill,” “Bill Hutchinson’s got it.”

Then the family was asked about the number of its members and if they had any other household. Married daughters were not counted under their father’s family but under their husbands. Then slips of paper were in the box from which the drawing began from each member of the chosen family. 

The one with the blackened strip was the chosen one. The others gather stones and surrounding the chosen person. They aim at the people until they die. Everyone takes part in as a community. 

Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box. Mrs Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs Dunbar. “Come on,” she said. “Hurry up.”

Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” 

Shirley Jackson portrays various things in this story perfectly. She underlines in themes of violence in people, willingness to take part, the inhumanity, holding onto to a tradition of no meaning and the behaviour of a person caged by circumstances and chance. The normalisation of the tradition itself lends onto the morbid ending and shock experienced by the reader. 

Writing exercise: Write a story about a ritual that has been in a culture for a long time and give it a surprise/morbid/grotesque twist.

Discussion questions:

  1. Why does Tessie at first seem to be willing to participate in the ritual until it narrows down upon her?
  2. Why do you think a tradition such as the “Lottery” been taken so seriously and guarded in the community?
  3. What do you think about the mob mentality that springs up among the people when Tessie gets selected and the way they advance onto to her with no regret?
  4. Why do you think Tessie wanted to include their daughter and her husband? 

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