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How does the story The Lottery relate to real life?

The Lottery is a short story written by Shirley Jackson that was first published in 1948. The story describes a fictional small town in contemporary America that holds an annual lottery each summer. A lottery is held to select one person in the town who will be stoned to death by the townspeople. The story explores themes of mob psychology, conformity, tradition, and the dangers of blindly following traditions.

While the premise of a ritualistic killing of a random townsperson is an extreme fictional example, The Lottery illustrates the real life tendency of societies to cling to traditions and norms simply because “things have always been done this way.” The story serves as a warning about the potential dangers of blind conformity and complacency towards traditions that may be unethical or barbaric.

Mob mentality

The Lottery shows how quickly a group of otherwise regular people can be swayed to commit an act of evil through mob mentality. In the story, the townspeople don’t even question the deadly ritual but go along with it as if in a trance. This highlights the real life phenomenon of people losing their sense of individual morality and ethics when absorbed into a crowd. Many of history’s darkest episodes, from lynchings to the Holocaust, illustrate how destructive mob mentality can be. The anonymous nature of crowds enables people to act in ways they likely never would as individuals.

Danger of blind conformity

The townspeople in The Lottery never pause to question why the lottery continues or even how it originated. They simply accept it as tradition. This demonstrates the real life tendency of people to conform without questioning cultural practices. Conformity provides a feeling of comfort and belonging. But blind conformity prevents progress and allows unjust and harmful practices to continue simply because “we’ve always done it that way.” It leads to complacency instead of critical thinking. Moments in history from slavery to women’s suffrage show how dangerous blind conformity can be when people do not stop to challenge the ethics of mainstream practices.

Unexamined traditions

For the villagers, the lottery is an accepted part of life purely because it is tradition. No one considers whether it is ethical or necessary. This reflects a real life tendency to follow traditions without analyzing their purpose or validity. Holidays, social rituals, and ceremonies often continue not because they make sense but simply because they have always existed. Meaning and purpose are lost even as people go through the motions of traditions each year. Examining the origins and reasons for traditions allows people to make more conscious choices about which to continue and which to leave behind. Progress demands recognizing when a tradition no longer benefits society.

Scapegoating and “othering”

The act of selecting one person as the “winner” of the lottery and focusing the crowd’s aggression onto them mirrors real life scapegoating. Psychologically, having a scapegoat channels negative feelings away from oneself and reinforces group solidarity because people perceive a common “enemy.” Throughout history, scapegoating specific groups of “others,” from racial minorities to immigrants, has allowed dominant groups to displace their own anxieties. But scapegoating is an unhealthy psychological defense mechanism that breeds prejudice and violence while ignoring root causes of societal problems.


While Shirley Jackson’s short story is an extreme fictional example, The Lottery effectively taps into real tendencies of human psychology surrounding mob mentality, conformity, tradition, and scapegoating. It serves as a warning about how quickly these tendencies can lead to dangerous outcomes when left unexamined. The story prompts readers to think critically about real life social dynamics and at what point collective behavior can turn sinister. Through literature, Jackson poses difficult questions about individual versus group morality, the purpose behind customs, and the potential darkness that lies within humankind.


The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a shocking story that depicts a brutal ritualistic murder in a seemingly civilized small town. Published in 1948, the story generated outrage and controversy due to its unsettling themes that resonated with real life social dynamics and tendencies. While the graphic events of the story are fictional, The Lottery taps into aspects of human psychology surrounding tradition, conformity, mob mentality and scapegoating. Looking deeper at how these themes relate to real life provides insight into how quickly group behavior can turn sinister when collectivism and blind adherence to tradition overrides ethical individual thinking.

Summary of The Lottery

The Lottery is set in a small agricultural town in contemporary times where an annual lottery is held every summer. On the morning of June 27th, the townspeople gather in the town square to draw slips of paper from a black box. Family patriarchs draw for each household. Tessie Hutchinson ends up drawing the paper with a black mark on it, meaning she has been selected as the winner of the lottery. She protests the unfairness as the townspeople, including her own family members, pick up stones to ritually stone her to death. The story ends as Tessie is killed by the collective act of the mob, and the town returns to normal until the next year’s lottery.

Mob Mentality vs. Individual Conscience

The speed with which the friendly townspeople turn into a ruthless mob highlights mob mentality, a psychological phenomenon where individuals in a group lose their sense of personal morality and ethics and act in extreme ways they likely would not on their own. The anonymity of a crowd essentially allows people to detach themselves from individual conscience and responsibility. While mob mentality is not always violent, riots, lynchings, torture during war, gang assaults, and group bullying demonstrate how groups can perpetrate horrific acts that individuals would abstain from. The Lottery shows the susceptibility of human nature to mob mentality through the townsfolks’ rapid shift from ordinary citizens to murderous psychopaths. They collectively lose empathy and murder a friend without considering the ethics because they are absorbed into a crowd.

Real Life Examples of Mob Mentality

  • Lynchings and mob violence against African Americans in 20th century America
  • Abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison
  • Nazis and European civilians targeting Jews during the Holocaust
  • Bullying and assault of individuals by groups of classmates or teammates
  • Riots that lead to destruction of property and harm due to uncontrolled crowds

These examples demonstrate how quickly mob mentality can turn deadly especially when directed at marginalized groups considered outsiders or “others”. The Lottery explores the human capacity for evil when individual conscience and empathy are subsumed by the anonymity and diffusion of responsibility found in a group. Mob mentality allows people to behave in inhumane ways they would likely avoid on their own.

Dangers of Blind Conformity and Complacency

The townspeople of the lottery never question or object to the ritual; they simply comply out of habit and tradition. This reflects the very real human tendency towards blind conformity, where the desire to belong and “follow the crowd” outweighs individual reason, ethics or consideration of consequences. When no one challenges cruel, unethical or illogical traditions, unjust practices continue unexamined. History offers many examples of institutions and norms that were accepted by mainstream society for decades before reformers critically analyzed and protested their immorality: slavery, child labor, women’s oppression, segregation, incarceration of gay people. By depicting a deadly ritual that no one thinks to question, The Lottery warns against the dangers of complacent conformity.

Real Life Examples of Blind Conformity

  • Slavery persisted in America for hundreds of years, largely unquestioned
  • Child labor was widely accepted as normal until the early 20th century
  • Women could not vote in America until 1920 due to patriarchal norms
  • Segregation was an unchallenged norm in the American South for over a century
  • Being gay was classified as a mental illness by mainstream society until 1973

These examples demonstrate how blind adherence to tradition leads to complacency about practices that future generations find unethical. Complacency breeds stagnation; critical analysis is needed to recognize injustice and drive social progress. The Lottery serves as an allegory about the dangers of blindly accepting norms without analyzing their purpose or validity. It prompts society to reflect on what current traditions and institutions will seem unethical to future generations.

The Vulnerability of Scapegoating “Others”

The arbitrary selection of one townsperson as the sacrifice mirrors how societies often scapegoat marginalized groups as the “other”,channeling societal sins and frustrations onto them. Scapegoating provides psychological relief because it displaces guilt, anxiety and responsibility from oneself. However, it breeds prejudice, diverts attention away from real social problems, and leads to further marginalization and violence against vulnerable groups labeled as scapegoats. Tragically, history is rife with examples of dominant groups scapegoating minorities ranging from people of color to immigrants to Jews. Often this channels real economic and social anxieties away from the privileged and towards easy targets. The Lottery portrays how quickly scapegoating can turn deadly, as the town sacrifices Tessie without reason to release their collective tension.

Real Life Examples of Scapegoating

  • African Americans wrongly blamed for crimes and economic problems in America
  • Jews targeted as scapegoats in Europe for centuries, culminating in the Holocaust
  • Immigrant groups portrayed as stealing jobs and hurting the economy
  • Muslim Americans profiled as terrorists after 9/11, fueling prejudice
  • Asian Americans blamed for COVID-19 pandemic and targeted in hate crimes

These examples demonstrate how dominant groups displace anger onto “others.” Scapegoating breeds an “us vs. them” mentality that justifies prejudice. The Lottery depicts how this dangerous psychological process can rapidly escalate from ostracism to violence unless checked by individual morality and compassion.

Theme How The Lottery Illustrates Real World Examples
Mob Mentality Townspeople quickly transform into ruthless mob Lynchings, riots, Abu Ghraib torture, bullying
Conformity No one questions the ritual lottery Slavery, child labor, women’s rights, segregation laws, treatment of LGBTQ people
Scapegoating Tessie is arbitrarily selected for sacrifice Racial minorities, immigrants, Jews, marginalized religious/ethnic groups


While the murderous lottery of the story is an extreme fictional event, The Lottery effectively taps into real human tendencies of collectivism and conformity, herd mentality, prejudice, and scapegoating. Through an allegory about society’s capacity to commit evil when ethics and empathy are overridden by groupthink, it prompts critical examination of aspects of human psychology that fuel injustice in the real world. The story serves as a warning about what can occur when traditions are followed blindly, individual reason is suppressed for the comfort of conformity, and societies channel fears and frustrations onto marginalized scapegoats. These aspects of human psychology are evident across eras and cultures, underscoring the timeless message of The Lottery in prompting vigilance against our own capacities for evil.