“The Lottery” is a short story written by Shirley Jackson in 1948. It takes place in a small town in the United States and depicts a sinister lottery ritual that occurs every year on June 27th. The story sparked controversy when it was first published due to its shocking ending. In this article, we will examine the central conflict in “The Lottery” and how it is ultimately resolved.
Summary of “The Lottery”
The story opens on a beautiful summer day in a quaint village of about 300 people. The townspeople are gathering in the town square for the annual lottery. Children play and adults chat amiably as they await the lottery to begin.
Once all the villagers have arrived, the heads of households draw slips of paper from a black wooden box. Bill Hutchinson draws the paper with a black spot on it, meaning his family has been chosen in the lottery. His wife Tessie protests, but no one will allow the Hutchinson family to escape their fate.
Each member of the Hutchinson family draws a slip of paper, and Tessie ends up with the marked paper. She protests again, but the townspeople force her to the center of the crowd. The townspeople, even her own children and husband, pick up stones and stone Tessie to death as she pleads for her life. After the stoning is complete, the villagers continue on with their day as if nothing horrific has happened.
The Central Conflict
The central conflict in this story arises from the clash between the individual (Tessie Hutchinson) and the collective (the village and its traditions).
Tessie finds herself trapped by the villagers’ insistence on carrying out the annual lottery year after year. The lottery is a barbaric ritual that everyone fears becoming the victim of, yet no one in town is willing to speak out against it. They go along with it because it is tradition.
Tessie represents individual reason and morality, which come into conflict with the herd mentality of the villagers. When her family is selected in the lottery, she attempts to resist by protesting and arguing that the process was not fair. However, the mass of villagers will not be deterred and they stone her to death despite her pleas.
The conflict is encapsulated in Tessie’s cries of “It isn’t fair!” juxtaposed against the townspeople’s insistence that they continue on with the lottery as they always have. Tessie’s individual voice is powerless against the momentum of blind obedience to tradition.
– Why do the villagers keep doing the lottery year after year? What motivates this groupthink and mass obedience to a harmful tradition?
– How does Jackson develop tension and ominous unease in the story even before the shocking ending? What literary techniques does she use?
– Is Tessie meant to be seen as a heroine, rebel, or victim? Why doesn’t anybody stand up for her or seek to stop the stoning?
– What critiques of society do you think Shirley Jackson was trying to make when she wrote this story? What deeper meanings or themes does “The Lottery” explore?
Analysis of the Central Conflict
There are several important factors that enable the core conflict between individual and society in this story:
Groupthink and Tradition
The village lottery is a long-standing tradition, having been carried out for 77 years by the time the story takes place. No one thinks to question or challenge it, as it is simply accepted as an annual ritual. This demonstrates the danger of groupthink, which allows obviously harmful practices to continue just because “it’s always been done that way.” Jackson suggests how following tradition blindly can lead to mob cruelty.
Conformity and Fear
Even those who seem uneasy about the lottery, like Mr. Adams, still go along with it out of conformity to the group. There is social pressure to conform, and those who might privately object do not speak out for fear of becoming outsiders in the village. Tessie herself goes along with the tradition until she becomes its victim. This shows the power of social conformity, which discourages dissent and moral questioning.
Randomness and Arbitrariness
The randomness of the lottery draw means anyone could become victim, regardless of virtue, deeds, or social standing. This heightens the senselessness of the ritual. There is no rhyme or reason to who the mob turns on each year, underscoring the arbitrary violence that conformity can unleash.
As soon as she is selected in the lottery, Tessie loses her identity and humanity in the eyes of the mob. Even her own family and friends are willing to stone her, showing how individuals get caught up in the anonymous mentality of the crowd. When people lose empathy for individuals, senseless cruelty becomes possible.
Detachment and Avoidance
No one in the village wants to be the victim, yet they avoid challenging the lottery’s existence. They prefer detachment and denial, going about their lives and ignoring the ritual’s barbarity rather than speak out. Their avoidance enables the practice to continue. Jackson suggests how looking the other way allows evil to flourish.
The conflict is resolved tragically with the angry mob stoning Tessie to death while she protests about the unfairness of her fate. The story provides no happy ending or resolution for Tessie. The individual loses utterly to the collective. The final lines even hint that the villagers will simply continue the lottery next year.
Tessie essentially serves as a scapegoat or sacrificial victim for the village’s sins. By channeling their fears, aggression, and frustration onto Tessie through the savage stoning, the mob is able to achieve a temporary sense of order, unity and catharsis. Of course, their harmony comes at the cost of an innocent woman’s life.
The story concludes by reflecting the cyclical nature of mob violence and scapegoating. Once Tessie is dead, the crowd returns to a calm, cheerful mood, as the annual purge has reset the social order in their minds. However, this restoration is only temporary until the next lottery draws near.
So the resolution provides a profoundly bleak view of individuals versus the collective. The herd mentality prevails through conformity, avoidance, and detachment from violence. The individual who challenges the mob is destroyed. The society maintains its stability and rituals without reforming or progressing.
“The Lottery” packs a devastating critique of conformity, tradition and mob mentality into its brief length. Some key points:
Conformity vs. Individual Reason
Tessie represents an individual’s moral conscience while the villagers represent unthinking conformity and obedience to groupthink. The story chillingly demonstrates how individual reason can be silenced and overwhelmed by the pressure to conform.
Examining Senseless Cruelty
The story forces readers to confront how “civilized” people can be drawn into ritualized violence against innocent victims when they succumb to mob mentality and obedience to tradition. Jackson criticizes the human capacity for cruel, arbitrary mob actions against individuals.
Critique of Passive Bystanders
The story also indicts those who passively witness evil and do nothing. No villagers speak out against the lottery; even Tessie is complicit in previous years. This shows how mass violence depends on bystanders looking the other way.
Warning Against Blind Obedience
The story serves as a parable about the dangers of blind obedience to authority and unwillingness to challenge unjust traditions or systems. Jackson suggests that thoughtless conformity can breed worse evils than individuals acting alone.
Human Scapegoating and Ritual Sacrifice
The lottery enacts a type of ritual human sacrifice or scapegoating designed to cleanse the village symbolically. Tessie is an arbitrary victim chosen to absorb the villagers’ sins, purge their fears, and restore harmony. This dynamic exposes how societies can target innocents.
Cycle of Victimization
Even after the savage murder of Tessie, the villagers remain trapped in their annual cycle of victimization, unable to break free from mob mentality. This cycle reflects how mindless conformity perpetuates oppression of weaker groups.
In “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson vividly explores the conflict between the individual and the collective through a shocking parable about conformity gone awry. The unnamed village carries out a barbaric annual lottery that ends in the scapegoating and ritual murder of an innocent woman, Tessie Hutchinson. Tessie tries to resist when her family is selected, but she is powerless against the mob mentality of the villagers, who stone her ruthlessly to death.
The story chillingly demonstrates how groupthink, blind obedience to authority and tradition, fear of nonconformity, and avoidance of moral responsibility can lead to horrific violence against individuals. It serves as a profound cautionary tale about the dangers of passive conformity versus individual reason and conscience. While the story provides a bleak outcome for Tessie as she falls victim to the mob, its lasting impact comes from forcing readers to confront the darkness potentially lurking within “civilized” societies.
|Role in Central Conflict
|Individual who challenges the lottery ritual; killed by the mob
|Old Man Warner
|Embodies tradition and resistance to change
|Official who obediently administers the lottery every year
|Represent groupthink, conformity, and complicity in violence through inaction
– The Black Box: Represents the tradition and ritual of the lottery
– Stones: Represent the instruments of violence and mob mentality
– Scapegoat: Tessie serves as a scapegoat to absorb the community’s ills
– Seasonal Cycle: Reflects the cyclical, repetitive nature of the ritual and mob mentality
1. Do you think Tessie serves as a rebel against tradition, a helpless victim, or something else? What is your analysis of her as an individual?
2. Why don’t any of the villagers raise objections to the lottery? What might this suggest about human psychology and society?
3. Are there any “Tessies” or “lotteries” that you notice in your own society? What modern parallels do you see to the story’s themes?
4. What do you think the author believes about individual courage in the face of collective pressure? What message is she conveying?
5. How does this story make you reflect on your own ability to behave morally or immorally in a group setting? When have you gone along with a group, and when have you resisted?
1. Compare and contrast Tessie Hutchinson and the villagers in terms of their motivations, beliefs, and actions. What conclusions does Shirley Jackson seem to be making about individual conscience versus groupthink?
2. Investigate the symbolism Jackson uses in “The Lottery.” What do objects like the stones, box, and slips of paper represent? What is the significance of the seasonal cycle?
3. Was Tessie right to protest her family’s selection in the lottery? Should she have remained silent or meekly accepted her fate? Present an argument defending or criticizing her actions.
4. Explore the central theme of scapegoating in “The Lottery.” How does the lottery serve as a ritualized form of scapegoating? What social purposes might this kind of scapegoating serve?
5. Examine the role of tradition in “The Lottery.” Why are the villagers so unwilling to question, challenge, or change the lottery ritual? What implications does Jackson seem to be making about mindless conformity to tradition?