Tradition, it’s the backbone of many cultures and societies whereas rituals are the events these traditions produce. Rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, which can be seen in “The Lottery”. “”The Lottery,” a masterpiece of stark, minimalist horror that builds to an ending that is both shocking and inevitable…” (Jackson, 464) This perfectly describes the agony of the characters in the story, their inevitable anxiety through the entire town lottery process, and the unknown that has arisen from this ritual. The villagers of this small town gather together, ritually, for the town lottery. The concept of ritual and tradition are intertwined in the short story “The Lottery”.
However, not all traditions are purely practiced. At the lottery gathering, the children run around to collect stones that they will put to use in the end and are the first to arrive. The children “selected the smoothest and roundest stones…” (Jackson, 466) as they wait to unite with their families. The way that the children are searching for specific stones, and are taking the joy out of this, shows how traditions are continuously carried out because that is what has been done in times past and that is what the townspeople view as the right thing to do. After the children arrive and collect some stones, they are followed by the men. As the men begin to gather, they are watching their children but are “speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes.” (Jackson, 466) This was an annual conversation that always took place at the lottery. Next, “The women, wearing faded house dresses and sweaters, came shortly after their menfolk. They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands.” (Jackson, 466) The parents then call their children over and each family stands together. The children initially are reluctant to come because they are so invested in collecting the stones. This shows how ‘normal’ the lottery is, and how the children are unaffected with what these stones will be used for.
Mr. Summers, who runs the lottery, begins the process. This activity became so routine for the people of this town that they don’t know a life outside of it. The townspeople have become so accustomed to the tradition of the lottery that they willingly participate in it without questioning its ethics or morality. They are more concerned with insuring good crop that they continue with having a scapegoat for this resolution since they believe this is the only way. Every year, on June 27, the villagers say, “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (Jackson, 471) as they wait to see what family will be chosen, but this quote shows they are aware that the sacrifice is ritualistic and has to happen for their crops.
Ultimately, when tradition takes the place of a justifying mindset, the results can be exceedingly dangerous. Jackson’s use of characters in the story really plays into the lottery tradition and a justifying mindset but also gives the reader a better feel for the atmosphere surrounding this event. Each character, in their own way, reveals a lot of information about the tradition of the lottery and the intentions behind it. These details vary from subtle to obvious, depending on the character.
These details are given through the entire lottery process. The lottery has become such a ritual for the townspeople, beginning with the black box. “Mr. Summers spoke frequently about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box.” (Jackson, 467). The people even showed hesitation when using woodchips to write the families’ names had been changed to paper. “Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations.” (Jackson, 467)
The population of the town was growing, and the ritual needed to be adjusted, even though the townspeople, especially the original ones, weren’t necessarily thrilled with disrupting tradition. They needed to update this tradition in order for it to run more efficiently, given a more advanced time period, but the people weren’t thrilled because this tradition was something they always did, without question, because it was their ritual; what they knew to be. It seems as though they are willing to make a few changes because the main tradition, the sworn in of Mr. Summers as the official of the lottery, was consistent. The fact that Mr. Summers intentionally waits for everyone to arrive shows the commitment to keep this tradition as it was, and how he wants to make sure they “get started, and get this over with, so’s we can go back to work.” (Jackson, 469) This was very important to them, but they were definitely in a rush to just complete it, so they can go back on with their lives.
It was extremely clear that this ritual meant so much to the townspeople. When Tessie Hutchinson arrived and found out her family was the ‘winners’ of the lottery, havoc broke out. She was noticeably upset and continued saying how unfair it was. She began with “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair!” (Jackson, 472) Although this was tradition, and Mr. Summers followed every ritual instilled in the lottery process, Tessie felt personally victimized because it was her family. She was really the only one in town to verbally express her alternate opinions on the lottery, but the townspeople clearly did not agree nor want to listen, considering they continued on with the process without a thought.
The overlying theme of tradition and rituals in “The Lottery” was vital not only for the characters but to allow for a clear understanding of this story. The townspeople were so concerned with upholding the original traditions of the lottery and wanted to make sure nothing/ or only slight changes occurred. They are so accustomed to this tradition/ritual, which shows how it is considered a normalcy in their town, and that they did not know anything different. “The Lottery” is an excellent portrayal of the importance of tradition, as seen by a group of people, and how willing they are to make sure that it continues on through generations to come.