The Lottery’ is an American short story written by Shirley Jackson. It has a shocking end which takes us by surprise. The author describes a strange ritual followed by the town.
Main Characters of the story
- Mr Summers (who conducts lottery)
- Mr Graves ( post master, who helps Summers in conducting lottery)
- Old man Warner (elderly person who has been attending the lottery for 77 years)
- Mr Adams (who dares to voice out about thinking of stopping the lottery)
- Mr Bill Hutchingson ( who receives the lottery among town’s people)
- Tessie Hutchingson ( the victim, who gets the lottery when family draws)
- Jr Bill, Nancy, little Davi ( children of Bill and Tessie)
- Watson boy (who lost his father in the last lottery)
- Mr Dunbar ( who broke his leg and hence absent from lottery)
The story starts with people getting assembled at the town square where the lottery is drawn every year on 27 June. It’s a rule that no one should skip it. Mr Summers arrives with a black box with slips in it. He has with him the list of families. He starts reading the names and the family head comes forward to pick up a slip from the box. No one should open theirs until everyone else takes a slip from the box. When everyone is done with taking, Mr Summers asks the gathering to open the slips. Whoever gets the slip with black spot is supposed to win the lottery.
Mr Bill Hutchinson wins it, but his wife Tessie opposes it. She says that her husband is not given enough time to choose. But she is silenced by Bill. The second phase of lottery starts by placing the number of slips that match the members of family along with a slip with black spot on it. Now, the family comes forward to take a slip each. Everyone holds their breath when they open them. People feel happy when the kids get an empty slip and the kids too beam with happiness.
Tessie gets the slip with black spot on it which means, she won the lottery. She again objects it but Bill asks her to keep quiet. No one bothers about her chatter. Mr Summers asks everyone to get ready. People go to the pile of stones gathered by the children and start pelting them at Tessie. They stone her to death. Even Tessie’s family takes part in this strange action.
The author wants to highlight the strange rituals that are carried as a part of tradition. She also suggests that youth should start questioning the illogical rituals. Mr Adams does the same in the story. He tells Old man Warner that people in nearby villages are thinking of quitting the act of lottery. He also tells him that a few villages have by now stopped it. But old man Warner says that the traditions need to be followed. He says, ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon’. People believe that stoning a person to death every year results in good yield of crops. It may sound strange to us, but we have other similar examples like ‘jallikattu’, considered to be a tradition though it takes away a few lives.
Short Answer Questions
1. From the context of the story, who controls the town and how?
The tradition and rituals control the town in the form of Lottery. It is mandatory that the entire town attends the lottery which is drawn every year on the same date. People follow the ritual without questioning, whatever may be the consequences.
2. What seems to have been the original purpose of the lottery? What do people believe about it?
‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon’ is their line. They believe that crops give more yield if they sacrifice a person and to choose the person, the system of lottery is created. This has been happening in the town for several years. The original purpose of lottery is to take a chosen life for the prosperity of town.
3 Is the structure of the town and the lottery democratic? Give reasons to support your opinion.
The structure of the town and the lottery appear to be democratic, but in true sense, it’s not at all democratic. People are supposed to attend the lottery as a rule, and they don’t have the right to express. They have to follow the illogical customs that are being practiced for more than hundred years, without questioning.
4 Is it important that the original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost? Why have some of the villages given up this practice?
Paraphernalia is the equipment necessary for conducting a particular activity. Here, it is the black box. The original black box was lost long ago. The present box is put to use even before Old man Warner, the oldest man in the town, was born.
5 How does Shirley Jackson’s choice to withhold the ultimate purpose of this tradition until the end of the story prove to be an effective way to communicate with her readers? How did you feel at the end as a result of not knowing?
The story starts with a casual opening and runs like a regular stereo-type until we come close to the end. There’s a shocking twist in the story. We can’t even imagine it. This becomes an effective way to communicate with readers. Readers suddenly stumble down when they come to know what exactly a lottery in that town is. The writing style has long lasting impact on readers.
6 How does Shirley Jackson trivialise the grave practice of the community’s traditional stoning, and what message might Jackson be trying to convey to the reader through the treatment of the character’s behaviour?
Jackson presents the grave practice of community’s traditional stoning as meaningless. She wants to give the message that it’s so cruel to follow meaningless practices. She conveys how people become heartless because of these traditions. The people of the town are used to it and they are ready to stone a person to death, even if the person is one’s own family member. They are simply relieved that it’s not him/ her and proceed to stone the other person. In the story, Tessie is beaten by her husband and children along with other people. Stoning also resembles the stone-hearted nature of town’s people.
The characters’ behaviour drastically changes when the lottery is drawn. The meaningless traditions take away tenderness from people’s hearts so much so that they stone a person to death and then go back have to have their lunch, so casually, as if everything happened is quite natural.
Long answer questions
1 Is the lottery a collective murder? Is it morally justified? What do you feel regarding this tradition?
Lottery is a weird tradition followed by the town’s people in the story. It can definitely be treated as a collective murder. People have superstitious beliefs. They say, ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon’. It means, they will get good yield of crop when they continue the age old customs and traditions. They don’t want to make any amendments in it. They are willing to murder a person for their prosperous future.
Lottery is drawn every year on 27 June and people draw from the black box, a slip each. The head of the family draws for the family. After everyone draws, they open their slips to see who has won the lottery. Everyone gets tense before opening. Bill Hutchinson gets it and his wife opposes that it’s not fair. She says that her husband is not given enough time to pick up the slip. The second round starts soon. There are 5 members in Bill’s family and hence 4 empty slips and one slip with a dark spot on it. The one who gets the slip with dark spot is supposed to get the lottery. Every other person in the town, including the person’s family, stones him/ her to death.
This ritual cannot be morally justified. It is baseless that there will be good yield if a person is stoned to death every year. It is strange that people do follow certain strange rituals. It is a cruel act in which everyone participates quite casually. Such traditions need to be banned.
2 Describe the scene and the speaker of the following quote–“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right.”
‘The Lottery’ is an American short story written by Shirley Jackson. The story has a strange and shocking end. It gives out a weird tradition followed by the town’s people. According to the story, lottery is drawn on 27 June of every year. Mr Summers, who conducts the lottery, reads the names of families and the head of the family comes forward to draw a slip. When everyone takes a slip, they open them. Whoever gets the slip with a dark spot on it wins the lottery.
Bill Hutchinson gets it and it’s Tessie Hutchinson, his wife, who says the above sentence. She protests telling, ‘It isn’t fair, it isn’t right’. She says that her husband isn’t given enough time to choose the paper. She objects the lottery and wants it to be conducted again. But Bill silences her and Mr Summers is ready to start the next phase. Now, 5 slips are placed in the black box, as there are 5 members in Bill’s family. One of those 5 slips bears the dark spot. This time, Bill, Tessie and their children take the slips. Everyone in the town gets tense when the children open their slips. They sigh a breath of relief when their slips are empty. Finally, it’s Tessie who gets it. She again protests saying that it isn’t fair. She is not willing to accept it but no one cares a damn for her opinion or talk. They go with their tradition that is being practiced for several years and stone her to death.
3 What is black box? Who made it? When and why is it significant?
The black box is symbol of an age old tradition. It is being used from past 77 plus years. The first one was constructed when the people settled down to make a village there. The present box was made with a few pieces of that old box. It became shabbier over years. Mr Summers wanted to change this one as the colour of wood is visible from under the faded paint and the box has become ugly. All the year long, it lies either in the post office or in the coal factory or on an attick, accumulating dust. It becomes important only on the day of lottery and the day before. The day before the lottery, the box is dusted and slips of papers are placed in it by Mr Summers with the help of Mr Graves. They roll in the slips the night before, place them in the box, lock the box and place it in the coal factory. The next day morning, which is on the day of lottery, they carefully bring it to the town’s square where people have gathered by then. No one is interested in changing the box as they see it as a change in tradition. They don’t want to upset the tradition. Mr Summers was successful in replacing the wooden chips with slips of papers, convincing the people that wooden chips won’t fit in the box as population has grown. The box is placed on a three legged stool for the lottery to be drawn.
4 How were women viewed in the village? What roles did they serve? Give examples from the text to support your answer.
The story starts with children gathering in the town’s square and collecting pebbles. A little later, the men come and talk among themselves on various topics like rain, tractor and taxes. After a while, the women of the town start coming. They are all in their faded regular dresses. They exchange bits of gossip and join their husbands. It’s a rule that every family stands together. Man is considered the head of family. If not, a male teenager is considered as the head. Women are not given equality or importance.
Mr Summers questions Mrs Dunbar on who is going to draw the lottery as Mr Dunbar has broke his leg and hence hasn’t attended the lottery. When she says that she herself will be drawing, he asks if her son can do it for her. She replies that her son is under 16 and hence she takes up the responsibility of drawing the lottery.
In another incident. Watson boy is considered the head of family as Mr Watson is no more. Mr Summers says to Mrs Watson that it’s good that she has a grown up boy to handle the responsibility.
Tessie is also silenced by Mr Bill and Mr Summers when she objects about injustice. No doubt, Women are given the second place in the story. They even don’t come along with their husbands to the town’s square. They join them only after a while. It also denotes that women are not treated parallel with men.