The Use of Religion in “The Lottery”

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In Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery, a small village continues a ritualistic lottery every year to encourage a prosperous crop production. The story uses religious undertones, such as the biblical allusion He who is without sin may cast the first stone, to demonstrate how society will blindly follow rituals without questioning their effectiveness or morality. The purpose of the lottery is to sacrifice one of their own to a supposed Rain God for good crops, even though taking a life goes against many religious beliefs. The story depicts how a community will go to great lengths to follow established rituals for the good of the whole, even if it causes harm to individuals. Overall, the story emphasizes the importance of maintaining rituals for the good of the community, even if they are cruel and no longer needed.

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Religion at times, is unconsciously referenced, or used in everyday life. This is portrayed in the short story “The Lottery”, written by Shirley Jackson. “The Lottery” is a story about a small village that maintains a ritualistic way of life to encourage the prosperous crop production. This ritual is performed every year in the same time, place and manner from years past. Shirley Jackson uses the biblical allusion “He who is without sin may cast the first stone” to demonstrate the religious undertone, and what we, as a society will do in the name of religion.

A ritual by definition is the prescribed procedure for conducting religious ceremonies (worldnetweb). By this definition, any activity that falls under the ritual category has a religious purpose. No matter what religion is followed, any activity that is performed on a routinely basis is considered a ritual. Without the religious undertone of “The Lottery”, there would be no purpose for the lottery. As with many religions, people follow blindly because that is what is expected. The Lottery” represents our willingness to do without question all that we have been told to do without any remorse (Tibbett).

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No one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box (Jackson 351) is a prime example of a society just doing as they always have. We all know as a society that taking the life of another is considered a sin, but this ritual undermines such beliefs. This ritual shows how far a community will go to follow a well-imbedded ritual, even though it causes the death of one of their own.

As with any religion, followers choose to accept beliefs as true and just. Shirley Jackson uses the ritualistic behavior of this society to demonstrate the importance of maintaining rituals throughout time for the good of the village, even though the ritual is cruel and no longer needed. All rituals’ have an origin, but some of the meaning behind them gets lost over time. The Lottery focuses around a village on the day of their annual lottery.

The purpose of the lottery is to ensure enough rain to have a good corn crop the following June. Basically, the story evolves around the misguided belief that if the villagers sacrifice one of their own to what readers are led to believe is a Rain God, then they will have good crops the next year. They believe that if they do not do this, then they will regress to hard times (Tibbett). This is a prime example of society choosing to do what is “good” for the whole, and not for the individual.

Shirley Jackson uses the villagers and their beliefs in old time rituals to justify the horrific stoning of a member of the community. In most civilized societies this activity of taking a life of one of their own would not be acceptable, but for the purpose of maintaining an established ritual it is allowed, and accepted by all in the community further demonstrating how blindly a community follows beliefs for the purpose of “good”. In religion, we do as expected, regardless of the questionability. The purpose of “The Lottery” is for the community to follow rituals for a productive year, and not question or dispute the effectiveness.

Works Cited

  1. Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery. ” Literature, the Human Experience. Shorter 9th ed. Richard Abcarian and Marvin Klotz, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. 350-356.
  2. Print Tibbett, Amelia. “Literary analysis: The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson” n. d. Web. 18 September 2009. Worldnetweb. n. d. Web 18 September 2009

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The Use of Religion in “The Lottery”. (2018, Jan 31). Retrieved from

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