Tradition in ‘The Lottery’
The concept of tradition and its importance in a societal set up forms the key theme of the story ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson. In the story, the aspect of tradition is exemplified through various descriptions and referrals to past events, and the allusion that things have happened in a specific way for ages. Tradition is portrayed as being both unifying and destructive depending on its applications in the society. Some communities abolish the destructive traditions while others are more resilient and resistant to change, particularly with respect to the negative customs. The implication has been a partial fading of traditions in different cultures driven by the changes in community attitudes. The argument that tradition is the key theme of the story is clearly represented by the vivid descriptions, allusions, and conceptions of the happenings in the story.
Jackson manages to clearly bring out the theme of tradition as an essential influencer of human behaviors. This is through the expectations associated with a tradition, such as the lottery, despite its destructive nature. The description of children’s actions in collecting and piling stones even before the beginning of the lottery clearly indicates that this is a behavior informed through an experience of the village’s tradition. Moreover, all the villagers have to attend the lottery and those absent have to be represented by their families. This can be based on the argument that all people understand the ways of the tradition to such an extent that it is possible to predict the effects of the lottery, and its implications on the village and thus collect the necessary tools prior to their need. Moreover, the children’s preparation and the presence of all the villagers are further supported by the affirmation that “There’s always been a lottery” (4) as reported by Mr. Warner. The fact that the children even guard the piles of stones collected indicate the seriousness with which the outcome of the lottery is taken without consideration of its destructive effects.
The influence of the traditions on the behaviors of the society is so high that it portrays that there is a blind following of traditions without considering their symbolism or implications on the society. For instance, the people of the village have held on to the lottery tradition based on what has been passed on from previous generations. One of the clear evidences to this fact is that while many of the paraphernalia that were formerly used in the lottery had been replaced, the people still went on with the lottery every year without understanding its effects on the society or its ethical implications. This belief is further escalated by the people’s fear or adamancy to replace the battered box despite it having been overused on grounds that it represents the tradition (2). This is an interesting juxtaposition in consideration of the fact that the same villagers have already forgotten some of the original rituals associated with the lottery. The author states that “because so much of the original ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the original chips of wood, which had been used for generations” (2). The abandonment of some of the paraphernalia used in the lottery is parallel to the more succinct abandonment of the lottery’s meaning or semblance in the society.
The brutality of the villagers can also be described in terms of their blind adherence to tradition. As the story ends, the intention of the lottery is revealed clearly. At the beginning of the story, each of the villagers was excited about the whole lottery situation. The unethical nature of its intention is only portrayed through Tessie’s last cry that “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right” (7). This cry indicates that while people follow traditions blindly without considering their destructiveness, the individuals who experience the brunt of the destruction are always more likely to recognize the negative implications of the tradition regardless of their earlier stance on the tradition. This argument is further explained by the excitement shown by the victim at the beginning of the lottery, which only changed after realizing that the destruction of the lottery was aimed at her family and finally at herself. The referral to villages that abandoned or focused on abandoning the lottery tradition as a pack of young fools by Mr. Warner (4) also evinces the portrayal of tradition as a potentially destructive aspect of societal norms if blindly followed. Those who have realized the brutality of the tradition focus on abandoning it while those who merely follow it blindly have no intention of abandoning it however destructive it proves to be.
In conclusion, it can be said that the theme of tradition and the various aspects associated with it clearly emerges in the focus story. ‘The Lottery’ is therefore an essential resource in learning about the impacts of tradition, especially where it is associated with brutality and how this influences the society’s ethical values. It clearly shows how blind adherence to outdated customs can erode the moral values of the society without the people’s realization.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. 1948. Retrieved from https://sites.middlebury.edu/individualandthesociety/files/2010/09/jackson_lottery.pdf