Shirley Jackson in her short story “The Lottery” revealed that adherence to traditions is not always beneficial for the society, and that sometimes one should abandon the usual rituals for the benefit of the new day, since some traditions may lead to unnecessary difficulties and even violence. The story is about the Lottery in the small abstract village, that has been held for generations. The winner of the lottery does not receive a prize. Instead, he or she is beaten to death with stones by other people in the village. Shirley Jackson uses descriptions in her narrative to explain, that everyone is participating voluntarily since this practice is traditional and ordinary for this village.
The story starts with an innocent description of the morning of June 27th in the abstract village. The people start gathering at the square for the Lottery. There were only about three hundred people, so the Lottery usually takes around two hours. At first, children were gathering at the square and picking up the rocks. Later, the men began to gather, followed by women. Everyone was calm and enjoying a day off, talking with each other. It seemed like a regular day in the village. At some point, Mr. Summers, who conducted the Lottery, arrived in the square. He carried the black wooden box and set it on the three-legged stool in the center of the square. He stirred up the papers inside it.
Shirley Jackson tells, that the history of the Lottery goes way back to the past. It is traditional for this society and has only changed a little since the village was founded. The chips of wood were used for generations, but they were substituted with slips of paper. There was a certain ritual associated with the Lottery, including a ritual salute from the official. However, now it was only necessary for the official to speak to every person approaching.
Suddenly, Mrs. Hutchinson rushed to the square almost being late. She chatted with Mrs. Delacroix, telling her that she almost forgot what day it was. She saw her husband and children standing near the front of the crowd and made her way towards them. She exchanged a joke with Mr. Summers.
After that, Mr. Summers decided to begin the Lottery. He checked whether everyone arrived and made sure that Mrs. Dunbar is drawing for her husband who broke his leg because her son was not old enough to do it yet. Then he announced that he is going to read names from the list and the heads of families should come up and take a paper from the box without opening it. The people are not paying attention to the rules because they were doing it every year and they know what they are supposed to do.
After announcing the rules, Mr. Summers started reading names one by one and men came up to the box to pick up the paper. Mrs. Delacroix and Mrs. Dunbar had a quick chat about how fast the time goes between the Lotteries. Old Man Warnar, who was the oldest man in the village, was talking to Mr. Adams about the idea of giving up the Lottery. Shirley Jackson made it clear that this idea was not received well by society here as it was an ancient tradition. Old Man Warnar seemed very concerned that some places have already quit lotteries.
Meanwhile, Mr. Summers was still reading names, including his own, until every head of the family had his piece of paper. Then, he allowed everyone to open the papers. Bill Hutchinson has got the paper with a spot. His wife, Mrs. Hutchinson, shouted that he did not have enough time to choose it. However, the lottery continued. Mr. Summers asked whether there were any other households in the Hutchinsons’ and Mrs. Hutchinson was trying to get her daughters’ families to split the chances between them. However, since daughters draw with their husbands’ families, Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson and their three kids were the only people taking the chances now.
After it was sorted, Mr. Summers took the paper with the spot form Mr. Hutchinson and placed it back in the box with 4 empty papers. Mrs. Hutchinson was still telling everyone who could hear her that the Lottery was not fair and her husband did not have enough time to choose his paper. Mr. Summers reminded the rules again and each member of the Hutchinson family, including small kids, was forced to pick the paper from the box. In the meantime, Old Man Warner was resenting that “People ain’t the way they used to be.”
After all five of Hutchinsons had the papers, they started opening it one by one. The kids had empty papers and they laughed showing their papers to the crowd. Mr. Hutchinson opened his empty paper as well. By this time, everyone knew that it was Mrs. Hutchinson who got the paper with the spot, but she seemed to be too scared to open it herself, so her husband did it. Peopled picked up the stones and went upon Mrs. Hutchinson, who was screaming that it was not fair.
Shirley Jackson described the last scene as if it was ordinary for all the people and they just wanted to get it over with quicker so they could get back to work. The story is shocking and straightforward. It makes a reader think about how far society can get in following traditions.