|"The Lottery" - By tracetXD|
Humans are creatures of habit. We wake up around the same time every day, make a cup of coffee, feed the dogs, have a piece of toast and some eggs, kiss our children goodbye, and then head down to the local town square for the annul stoning. Yes, even something as brutal and violent as stoning someone to death in broad daylight, in front of an audience of small children no less, can become mundane when ritualized as cleverly illustrated by Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” That is, until it becomes personal.
The village lottery in Jackson’s story becomes ritualized to the point where the people gathered are more concerned with beginning on time “to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner” than the brutality that is about to take place in front of them. The men folk stand around casually “speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes.” The women folk “greet one another and exchanged bits of gossip.” The children do as children do, collecting rocks and “[break] into boisterous play.” Not so much as a hint that in just a matter of moments one of them will be stoned to death by the hands of their own family, friends, and neighbors.
When Jackson originally wrote this story she received quite a bit of flak and hate mail from a lot of people, mostly because the meaning behind the savvy scene she painted was lost amongst the brutality that she depicted. The message that Jackson was trying to convey is that even something as horrific as war can become ritualized, and it’s purpose and meaning forgotten over time if we are not careful. Think about in our own time. The “War on Terror” has been raging on for more than 10 years, yet we continue on our own daily lives, more often than not, without even a passing thought towards the savagery and lives lost on a daily basis that occurs there. That is until that violence and savagery affects our own family, friends, or someone we know.
In the “Lottery” Mrs. Hutchinson, a villager, arrives late to the lottery drawing claiming, “[I] clean forgot what day it was,” illustrating how ritualized the stoning event had become, that she plum forgot all about it as if she had simply forgotten to take out the trash. Mrs. Hutchinson then casually takes her place amongst the other villagers that have gathered, never once complaining or protesting against the lottery. Even when other villagers begin to discuss how “some places have already quit lotteries,” she never chimes in. In fact, at one point, Mrs. Hutchinson even rushes her own husband forward to “[g]et up there Bill” when their family name is called to draw from the black box. She seems more concerned about getting the drawing over with so that she can tend to her own daily tasks, and none too worried that she or one of her family members might get stoned to death in short order. It is not until she draws the ill fated “black spot” that designates her as the sacrificial lamb for that season's crop that she begins to cry out in protest, “[i]t isn’t fair, it isn’t right.” It had just become personal for Tessie Hutchinson. Like so many of us do, she had let herself slip into the mindset that, “oh this will never happen to me.” How many times have we said that to ourselves?
What Jackson is saying is, take heed Americans. Not just when it comes to matters of war, but even simple everyday matters too. Don’t wait to get involved or to protest when you feel something is wrong until it personally affects you. One never knows when it will be our turn to draw the “black dot.”
Michael A. Walker
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