The Luck of the Ritual

         It is very easy to be drawn in by tradition. The celebration of different customs, ideals, and rituals in a familial setting not only fosters love and friendship, but also provides a sense of safety for all those involved. But what happens when a group practicing their tradition loses sight of its integrity? What happens when the original intent of a ritual is lost, but those celebrating continue on only because they are too afraid to lose the sense of kinship they have formed? In “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson paints this very picture as she delves into a world centered around the ancient ritual of chance and sacrifice. In her portrayal of this seemingly backward society, Jackson points out the dangers of blindly putting one’s faith into anything, all the while highlighting the issue of the “mob mentality” the village exhibits. She uses the black box and the actions and reactions of the townspeople to prove this very point.

            Jackson uses imagery when introducing the black box so the reader can get the full effect of its worn down and dilapidated nature. She asserts that “the black box got shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side… and in some places faded or stained” (Jackson 2). The box is completely falling apart; It is splintering, worn, and even though they still use it, it is outdated and in need of retirement. This box is clearly an extended metaphor for “the lottery” as a whole. Jackson even tells us that “the original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago”, much the same way the original meaning and intent of the ritual killing had been lost years before (1).  Jackson wants the reader to see the parallels between this run down black box and the now misguided systematic killing that takes place every June.   

        It appears that almost the entire town is blind to the fact that they are killing their friends and family just because “there’s always been a lottery” (4).  They are puzzlingly complacent with selling off their friends for something as simple as a good crop yield.  Many undoubtedly question the practice, as we see both Mr. and Mrs. Adams try to persuade Old Man Warner and the rest of the town to reconsider on the basis that “some places have already quit lotteries” (4).  The rest of the town, too, showed signs that they did not really feel comfortable with the ritual, and some even argue to allow Bill Hutchinson redraw as it was “not fair” that he was chosen. In the end, though, the mob mentality found a way to win out, as we see little Davy Hutchinson gathering stones to bludgeon his beloved mother to death by the end of the story.

         The reality of “The Lottery” is quite tragic. While it is incredibly rare to hear of such stories of human sacrifice today, it is very easy to succumb to the allure of blindly participating in things of which one might not be sure. It is even more common for one to submit to the will of the group. The combination of these two things were ultimately the reason Tessie Hutchinson ended up dying in an onslaught of flying stones – hurled by her family and friends nonetheless. She effectively summed up the entire ritual before the last rock hit her, exclaiming “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right”(7). Her assessment was spot on, however it stopped no one, as the townspeople were not only putting blind faith into something they didn’t understand, but they were so caught up in the mob mentality of it all there was no chance that fairness, or what was right would ever prevail – then or in the future. 

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