Who would ever imagine that a community of supposedly civilized people would take time out once a year to draw lots on who they should hit with stones? The story of “The Lottery”, written by Shirley Jackson, is a metaphorical reference to a hyperbolical fiction. Symbolisms triggered the theme of the story through the black box; the village itself; Old Man Warner and Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson – as they unfold the practice of a weird tradition.
The people in the village gather every June 27, at ten o’clock in the morning for the yearly lottery. An energetic townsman, Mr. Summers, conducts the lottery in the town square – with every villager present. The men as head of the family each draw a slip of paper from a black box that has served the lottery for so many years. The men will simultaneously unfold the slip simultaneously. The head of the family that gets the “marked” slip will call his entire household to draw the second round of the lottery. And the one member of the family that gets a slip with a black dot, is the one designated for the year to be stoned.
Blindly following a tradition deprives the ability of a civilization or mankind to evolve the rationalization of such tradition. Without evaluating as to the applicability or logic or soundness of a practice of a society will hinder the development and progress of its citizenry.
TO BE BOXED IN
Any transition of civilization, any society is still encapsulated or boxed within a certain norm or tradition or practice that belies the change in times. It is either through a perception of sanctity; or fear of the unknown; or complacency to change; or obstinacy to realignments of substance and relevance – that society and/or mankind generally or specifically will constrain evolving from a well kept tradition. Thus, as the black box symbolizes:
“The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.” The villagers have completely closed their minds about “change”.
And when complacency becomes embedded, the rigors of analyzing a tradition is definitely taken for granted. The components of a society living blindly by a tradition will not even be aware as to where and when and how such practice really came about and its future destiny. They just leave it as something that is routine and just to go on and get over it whenever the time to observe the tradition has come. Therefore, the black box became the point of reference of tradition taken for granted:
“The rest of the year, the box was put way, sometimes one place, sometimes another; it had spent one year in Mr. Graves’s barn and another year underfoot in the post office. and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there.”
A tradition or norm is constantly and consistently practiced, sometimes men do not anymore question it whether it is right or wrong. Even though men might wish to be righteous, a tradition that is not analyzed can make men evil. There is Old Man Warner who is no longer capable of having an open mind about what is right or wrong:
” ‘Pack of crazy fools,’ he said. ‘Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live hat way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,’ he added petulantly. “
A civilization or a society cannot continually be contented on allowing any tradition or norm to be practiced even if it is no longer suitable to the change of times. There must be constant study and thought as to how to make norms and traditions suitable to the changes in time and in the environment. Because, just like what village represented:
“Chips of wood, Mr. Summers had argued, had been all very well when the village was tiny, but now that the population was more than three hundred and likely to keep on growing, it was necessary to use something that would fit more easily into he black box.”
Yes, a long time of norm and tradition might be difficult to break. There are old dogs that cannot really be taught new tricks, so to speak. The sad part is that a man who does not see the light and need for change is tied to the stagnant life he knows. As it is illustrated:
“Seventy-seventh year I been in the lottery,” Old Man Warner said as he went through the crowd. “Seventy-seventh time.”
Finally and only when a tradition or a norm caught up specifically on a person as the subject of deterrence, then reason will bounce off. Amidst a helpless cry about seeking justice, seeking truth, seeking righteousness – the majority of the crowd who has not bothered to think about justice, truth and righteousness, continue to blindly practice that tradition. Regretfully, Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson symbolized the irony when:
“[she] was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head.”
It is both pathetic and ironic that civilized people who seem to be organized about keeping schedules and ensuring dishes are washed – to be boxed into blind tradition. As some villagers insinuated about a need for change (in reference to other villages that have curtailed the traditional lottery), it simply earned a remark of “a pack of fools” with the insistence that “there is always a lottery”. The people in the village do not seem to be in want of progress – except for the one that finally gets the “marked, dotted slip”, and cries: “it isn’t fair, it isn’t right”.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery”