Humanity and Violence
“The Lottery,” written by Shirley Jackson, features a small town village with about 300 residents who anxiously wait for an event. At first the town appears to be cheerful and doing normal activities like kids running around and adults conversing with one another. As soon as, the old man, Mr. Summer, enters with a worn-out black box, however, an eerie feeling befalls the villagers replacing the before enthusiastic atmosphere. Turns out the entire town is playing a special lottery to decide who to sacrifice in order to get a good harvest that year. The villagers get to cruelly stone the helpless winner to death. Jackson portrays a reality of pointless violence in “The Lottery,” to shock readers with gruesome imagery.
An obvious theme in this short story is the shocking violence done to poor Mrs. Hutchinson at the end. The entire village conspires to kill her, which included her family as well. Little children listened to the words of the adults and imitated them, most likely not knowing the difference between right and wrong since they didn’t hesitate to throw the stones. Moreover, Mrs. Hutchinson’s husband didn’t attempt to stop anyone and joined the craze. Jackson didn’t describe gory details of death to show outrageous violence, however, the overwhelming sense of victimization and the disturbing interactions in the community is enough to understand that the village retained a violent culture and tradition.
Old Man Warner represents a relic of the past. He’s old enough to understand what the stoning ritual represents, and he also sees how other communities have changed. Furthermore, his character reflects how the community acted as a whole. The most important hint is the fact that when people tell Old Man Warner that other villages have already given up the lottery, he tells them that young folks have it all wrong and misfortune will befall people who don't follow tradition. Nobody doubts him.
In the universe that Jackson created, humanity is dictated by fear and a resistance to evolve. Characters act like puppets without a conscience. The only few emotions the village showed was anxiousness, relief, and finally violence. None of the adults care to make personal connections with one another other than gossip and work. Basically, there is no sense of individualism in this story. No matter how desperate Mrs. Hutchison pleads to avoid death, the community acts under tradition and imitation of others. Everyone is scared for themselves and doesn’t give a single thought about the safety of others.
Powerful and loaded writing like “The Lottery” is sure to incite a feeling of shock to the readers today. Normally, violent actions taken by the characters in this story would be met with severe consequences in today’s society. However, there are other examples from other literary text, where in the not so far past that people did indeed act like the characters in this book. One example is the Salem witchcraft story, where many people were hanged because they were accused of witchcraft without concrete evidence. Furthermore the realistic storytelling in “The Lottery,” poses a theory that humanity is capable of extreme violence without individualism.