The Traditional Scapegoat
The Traditional Scapegoat
In “The Lottery” author Shirley Jackson writes about a small community’s jovial, yet macabre tradition of gathering together once a year for the sole purpose of stoning one of its own to death. However, as horrific as the story’s climax is, Jackson frames the event under the almost false premise that the inhabitant of the town are gathering not for the annual stoning to death of a human being, but for some other mundane and certainly less lethal reason. The reader is left to wonder what it is Jackson is actually trying to say. In fact, so jarring is the climax that, according to Lenemaja Friedman, when the story was first published in 1948, readers of The New Yorker were not only horrified, but quite confused. “Of the many letter received,” Lenemaja writes, “only thirteen spoke kindly to [Jackson]; and those were from friends.”(44) However, a close reading of the source material easily reveals exactly what it is Jackson is trying to say; that even in modern society, with all our modern trappings, mankind is still susceptible of committing great acts of evil all in the name of tradition.
In the “The Lottery” author Shirley Jackson writes about a small community’s reluctance to give up tradition. The story takes place on a normal sunny day, with a community gathering for the annual event of the lottery. The lottery is conducted with a two part raffle. The first raffle is to pick the family from which the winner is selected. When that is done, then the winner is selected from within the family. Once the winner is known, the community comes together and stones the winner to death. Now why would author Shirley Jackson write about something that is gruesome and barbaric as that? Had she started the story with a dark introduction, the reaction of the reader would have been different. But because she created a setting where the lottery drawing seem like a normal function of normal people, she causes the reader to raise questions as to why she would write something like this. Are the themes in the “The Lottery” of strict adherence to tradition relevant to today’s society? Is modern day society susceptible to evil in the name of tradition? The answer is yes. In “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson paints a vivid and terrifying picture of how a community’s strong ties to uphold a tradition can result in the inheritance of evilness inside an otherwise normal human being.
To clearly see the message that Jackson is trying to drive home with the reader, that strong ties to tradition can result in the unleashing of the innate evils inside otherwise normal people, one must first examine the way in which Jackson chooses to frame the story. As stated, Jackson presents the reader with what, on the surface, appears to be a quaint, slice-of-life tale of one small town’s annual get together. This, as Robert B. Heilman states, is the first part of how Jackson delivers