In 1948, Shirley Jackson published the short story “The Lottery.” When the story was first published it received very harsh criticism for reasons of people feeling attacked by the story. The biggest concern of the story was how small-town America was being portrayed by the story. They thought it was ridiculous that someone would portray their values in such fashion and they would insist that “they did not regularly stone people to death”(Gahr). The response to the publishing was a shock to both Shirley Jackson and The New Yorker because the point of the story was to show that cruel acts can be seen within places considered to be a safe place. Jackson, of course, did not publish this story to make a fool of small-town America, but to bring awareness that inhumane acts can happen within places people wouldn’t even think first about. In the short story “The Lottery,” Jackson uses moral criticism to show mob mentality, manipulation, and tradition. This matters because it shows how even the safest places to people aren’t that safe and non-beneficial traditions shouldn’t be continued.
In the story, Jackson shows how Mr. Summers is seen to be this person of power in the eyes of the people who live in the village. She does this by showing how Mr. Summers acts when it comes to the day of the lottery and how he is the one that leads the lottery. Mr. Summers is also the person that draws the names from the black box and creates the slips of paper that go into the box.
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Some characteristics of Mr. Summers were some pretty important factors when considering the tradition of the village. If the leadership of who runs the lottery is passed down from generation then Mr. Summers will be the last person to run the lottery since he has no children. There is no evidence from the story that says how Mr. Summers got into power, so if it was passed down from generation to generation then he is purposefully stopping the lottery after his reign. Although, someone could just volunteer to be the next leader and continue the tradition of the lottery. Jackson does not state how Mr. Summers came into power of being the man to control the lottery, he could have just volunteered to be the leader or he could have created the lottery all by himself. By having Mr. Summers be in a higher power than everyone else, he is able to exempt himself from being chosen by the lottery because he is the one that makes the paper slips, and it’s his role to put the black mark on the paper. Mr. Summers also talks about how he wants to make a new Black Box because the old one is roughed up, which the villagers don’t like the idea of. “Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box” (Jackson).
The people of the small town obey the tradition of the lottery without free will because this event has been going on for a long time. The people of this town don’t even know why they are continuing this tradition, but they still follow through with the lottery every year. The townsfolk have become insensitive to killing one another because they have been doing for many years, which is a scary thing to think about. These people grew up together and made friendships and memories, but when it comes to the unlucky person that is selected for the lottery all of that doesn’t matter. These citizens fall into a mob mentality because the lottery is an old tradition that helps them justify why they can kill innocent people every year. The citizens have also talked about the other towns around them stopping the tradition of the lottery, but the people of the village are afraid to speak up about stopping the tradition because of firm believers like Old Man Warner.
Throughout the story, Jackson shows what happens when people stop thinking for themselves and blindly follow what everyone else is doing because of a tradition. The citizens are immune to sadness when it comes to sacrificing “the lucky winner” because they have been raised to think of this as an exciting moment for someone that they are blinded by the truth of the whole situation. This is a perfect example of mob mentality because everyone is not thinking for themselves and instead follow this tradition that they don’t even know the purpose for. Let alone, they don’t even think about why they are taking innocent lives every year for no real reason. It’s become so normalized to them that they don’t have a negative emotion when sacrificing their friends and family. The only emotions they get are joy and excitement because they’ve been taught to see this moment as a celebration rather than what it really is. They’ve completely glorified the murder of an innocent being for a reason that they haven’t been told.
The town villagers use peer pressure to silence people that think this is an outrageous tradition and unfair. Peer pressure is a way of manipulation because the people of the village try to silence Tessie Hutchinson when she’s trying to call out that Bill Hutchinson had an unfair advantage in the lottery. Mrs. Delacroix tells Tessie to “be a good sport”(Jackson) because Tessie is trying to point out that Bill had an unfair advantage which is a way to try and silence her for pointing out a flaw. Mrs. Graves tries to support Mrs. Delacroix's argument by saying “all of us took the same chance”(Jackson). Bill then tells Tessie to “shut up”(Jackson) because she’s saying that his name being called wasn’t fair when being selected. This is a blatant way of trying to silence someone, he doesn’t even seem to be worried that he or a member of his family is about to be sacrificed. He seems to be too worried that she is going against the tradition of the lottery so he tries to silence her.
Through Jackson’s work, she uses moral criticism to show that life is not fair and that just because something is always done, doesn’t mean that it is beneficial and should be continued. We see this when Bill had a disadvantage when being selected as the winner of the lottery, something that Tessie tries to point out that Bill had an unfair advantage when being selected. Jackson says that in the story “some places have already quit lotteries”(Jackson) to show that people came to their senses to discontinue this tradition, they’ve in a sense gained free will and broke away from the tradition. Many people in Mr. Summers’ town have tried to speak up about the subject but just get shut down by the believers of this tradition. Old Man Warner is a proud believer in this tradition as he has lived through very many lotteries and says that the people who stopped the tradition are “nothing but trouble” and are a “pack of young fools”(Jackson). Trying to persuade people to not have thoughts of discontinuing the tradition because that would cause trouble and be ridiculous.
“The Lottery” is a short story that demonstrates what happens when people are blinded by tradition. Just because the tradition is continuing doesn’t mean it should, it’s not beneficial to do something that doesn’t give something back. Jackson does a great job showing the reader the mob mentality of the villagers as well as being manipulated by other villagers from having a voice and free will. Jackson has taught a valuable lesson through this story by showing that a lack of free will can easily be manipulated and used in cruel manners.