The Lottery: Free choice, self knowledge and Guilt
There are many instances in our lives which prompt us to ask ourselves the questions: “Who am I? - The Lottery: Free choice, self knowledge and Guilt introduction?? “, “What am I doing here? “, “Does anyone know I exist? “, “Does anybody care about me? “, “Why am I doing this? “, and “What was I thinking? “. Life is full of opportunities to achieve excellence or failure. Some of us choose excellence, some choose failure, and some are not given a choice. In the novel The Lottery, Sal Hanson is chosen as the year’s lottery winner at her school Saskatoon Collegiate (S. C. ). This role enables the Shadow Council to take advantage of her by making her do their “dirty work”.
Not only is the role of the lottery winner demeaning, but it also takes Sal on a journey where she learns free choice, self-knowledge, and guilt. Having free choice is essential for individuals in order to define what kind of person they are, and who they aspire to be. After Sal Hanson is chosen as the lottery winner, the luxury of free choice is taken from her. The Shadow Council has control over Sal’s choices that, now, consist of following Shadow Council’s orders to a tee or suffering the consequence of receiving demerits. She felt the leash around her throat, tightening like the silence in the room” (47) is how Sal feels after her first encounter with Shadow Council.
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Not only does Sal suffer from a loss of free choice, but her peers do as well. This is especially seen through the character change of her best friends, Brydan and Kimmie, as they feel obligated to follow the ways of Shadow Council and shun the lottery winner. Sal recognizes this as she walks through the halls and realizes her friends are … he worst, their eyes glazing with dread whenever they accidentally bumped into her.
Brydan had it easiest – he simply ducked his head and treaded her as part of his regular hallway obstacle course – but the rest of her friends were eye level and had to keep inventing a sudden interest in their watches or turning in the opposite direction (70). Sal tries to convince herself that she doesn’t care about this dramatic change, but she fails as she concludes “but the fact was she did care, and it was the small ridiculous things she cared about” (72).
It would seem that what Sal misses the most are the little things. This is a great example of how our lives are made up of an immense amount of little things that are all combined together to form what we know as ‘us’. Without the free choice to keep or remove these things from our lives, our lives are tremendously impacted. In her performance of Willis Cass’ composition, “Inside the Question”, Sal feels something deep within her and reflects on how certain people around her deal with the sorrow of losing their free choice as well.
Closing her eyes, Sal sent herself wishing into sound and it became the song of her father she was playing, thinking of Chris Busatto, Tauni Morrison, Diane Kruisselbrink, and Jenny Weaver – all those who couldn’t find the mouth in their face yet would not be silenced. She played on, their voices rising through her, demanding an existence that was free of the hawk soaring above, and more than a low-level reflection.
The music lifted through her, taking the shape of their faces – Diane Kruisselbrink, arms lifted for a mighty shove; Jenny Weaver’s eyes darting here, there and everywhere, still searching for one true friend; Chris Busatto glaring over a copy of The Chocolate war, saying “Maybe I should get you an appointment”; Tauni Morrison whispering, “Find you feet, find your feet”; and her father’s gaze, hurt and staring, just before he gave that final twist to the steering wheel – all of them fighting back in their own way, saying, I cannot live with this, it is not enough (238).
Nearing the end of the novel, Sal is finally given the opportunity of free choice. This is given to her in the form of choosing whether to remain the lottery winner, or not: ‘I made a deal with Shadow – they’ll lay off on extra duties and respect you like a normal victim. Everyone else in the school will continue to shun you until the end of the year, and then all will be forgiven and forgotten. ‘ … ‘And if I refuse? ‘ … ‘A new lottery will be held and another victim selected…. You’ll be shunned by everyone at S. C. until you graduate, and when you leave this place, it’ll follow you like a curse for the rest of your life’ (258/259).
This is the only time in the novel in which Sal is given an opportunity to make a decision without prompting from any outside parties, and soon enough, Sal realizes that everyone is entitled to free choice. When the option of free choice is taken away, many people react in various ways. Not everyone is same; therefore, no one deals with situations the same way. It’s not about how someone else deals with a situation, but how you can deal with it. Knowing yourself inside out is key – especially in a high school environment where there many situations in which one can compromise his or her complete character if not careful.
Not knowing yourself can also make you insecure, as you will constantly question yourself and your peers. Sal’s journey of self-knowledge starts right after she is chosen as the lottery winner. This is no coincidence. Because of the great effect Shadow Council has on the student body at S. C. , Sal realizes that she doesn’t know her friends as well as she thinks when, one-by-one, they fail to encourage and support her when she needs them the most. “Panic began…. Brydan hadn’t acted like this yesterday afternoon, and the word had been out then” (67) is Sal’s reaction as Brydan ignores her during one of their band rehearsals.
After this great betrayal, Sal turns to the one person that seems like a friend to her. Ironically, this is Willis Cass, the president of Shadow Council. After learning of Willis’ character (through playing his composition “Inside the Question” with him), Sal learns that Willis is in the same predicament as she is in – he does not know who he is anymore. I look in the mirror and my face gets further and further away, there’s so much shit piled in front of it. I reek, I can’t bear the stench of myself or any of my so-called friends. The only place I can get away from it, the only place I can truly see myself now, is when I look at you. .. You haunt me like the hawk’s reflection in the river…. You’re my shadow, my other option. The choice (212).
This is how Willis expresses his lack of self-knowledge, and gives the readers a glimpse of the tribulations he would face if he were to show his true colours; different than what he’s been transformed into. Besides Willis, Sal turns to the other thing she feels like she has left: Shadow Council. Even though she doesn’t always agree with what the council wants her to do, she does all of their bidding. Soon enough, Sal finds comfort in being associated with the Council, and soon takes pride in being apart of it.
After certain “pranks” played by Shadow Council, Sal thinks: “For one glimmering, soul-singing moment, Sal wouldn’t have traded anything for the privilege of being Shadow Council’s shadow” (116), and “Not until that moment had she realized she’d wanted the venture to succeed, she wanted Shadow Council to rule” (128). One could say that Sal “loses” herself for a while, but finally “catches” herself and realizes what it is that she wants to support – “No … She didn’t want a small group of ego-terrorists running fifteen hundred students with threats and mind games” (128/129).
When the opportunity arises, Sal strikes back by handing out the translation to Shadow Council’s codes to students around the school. This leaves Sal with the ultimate choice…. Being confident in whom you are, and standing firm on those beliefs will get you through many difficult situations in life. Not knowing and having confidence in yourself will make you an easy target for peer pressure and falling under bad influences. Some know themselves 100%, yet some, like Sal, sway in difficult circumstances, however it’s all up to you to decide how you plan to deal with the situation at hand – because your identity may be on the line.
Every one of us do things in our lives in which we deeply regret in later days. Sometimes the guilt fades away, but sometimes it harbours into something more, and acts as a chain that binds us, affecting every aspect of our lives. Sal Hanson is no exception as she harbours a deep guilt that takes over most of her life – the death of her father. It does not help that Sal is chosen as the lottery winner – another guilt-infested role. In order to get away from all the guilt she harbours, Sal throws herself on her bed and spaces out while emptying her mind. Nobody knew she did this – spaced out, complete zombie zone.
She had a way of stretching the tiny pocket of space between each tick of the clock and crawling into it, depositing part of her mind there, then crawling out again and letting the next tick come. It took a lot of concentration, digging an invisible hole, then stuffing it full of the parts of herself she didn’t like…. she could get rid of a lot of junk (10) is the method Sal uses in order to clear her mind and run away from her guilt. This method could be seen as a way to let it all go, yet we see that it is not effective as Sal feels compelled to resort to this method numerous times.
Before taking on the role of the lottery winner, Sal was deeply troubled by her father’s death. She remembers the pain as she sees Tauni’s pain, a fellow student, and then remembers the blue voice… The way that girl was crying, that voice – she hadn’t heard it for so long she barely recognized it, but there it was, her own voice coming out of the other girls’ mouth. Suddenly she was deep in memory, her bedroom quilt twisted tight around herself, the same wild cries coming up her throat.
There had been no one to help her then, … he remembered burrowing into the inner darkness … she realized she was waiting… she’d reached the end of everything she had and something had to come to her… give her what she needed to go on. What had come to her, alone in that darkness, had been a voice, a deep blue voice that sang without words. It had come to her as if it knew her… as if it knew exactly the way her heart had once sung and the melodies it needed to hear again (31-32). It was the blue voice that helped her somewhat cope with the death of her father, and Sal loses the blue voice after a while.
She feels “contaminated” (150) and feels like “the voice had far more deserving souls to visit” (150). However, Sal finds the blue voice again and it helps her cope as the lottery winner. Sal feels guilty after seeing the effect the Council’s deeds have on the ‘victims’, and Sal feels responsible because she was apart of it. Sal does not share her guilt with anyone, but keeps it inside thinking, “he wouldn’t love her when he’d heard what she’d done” (151) – ‘he’ referring to her brother, Dusty, her confidant. Later on in the novel, Sal starts to get tense in a driving lesson with her brother Dusty.
Sal uses this opportunity to finally confide in her brother, confessing to him: I was my fault… I killed my daddy. I killed him… I screamed ‘I hate you, you’re wreaking everything, I hate you so much”… he looked at me so sad, like I’d stabbed his heart. And then he drove the car into the tree on purpose, because… oh Dusty, because I said I hated him (228). Dusty then explains to Sal that her father had planned to kill himself anyway; that it was not her fault. After learning of this, Sal feels as if the wall inside her had been broken, and was never coming back.
The relief she feels is what helps Sal deal with whatever the Shadow Council throws at her, and realizes that carrying a burden of guilt alone isn’t always such a good thing. Having free choice, self-knowledge, and being “guilt-free” is essential in helping us deal with any situation that may come our way. At the end of the novel, Sal learns that many valuable lessons on these three topics, which in turn, help her in her journey as the lottery winner. The three topics also inevitably aide Sal in realizing that “nothing fits the way it used to, there is no black-and-white” (184).