“So, I wrote [to Shirley]: ‘I read ‘The Lottery.’ What does it mean?” [Shirley’s] answer: ”I wish I knew” (O’Shaughnessy qtd. in New York Times).
To catch up or recap: Rock-Paper-Scissors (a Literal Metaphor) #1
The second theme of struggle within “The Lottery” tackles arbitrary customs.
The lottery is all about tradition! Sure, Old Man Warner claims, “It’s not the way it used to be” (Jackson 7). Maybe the annual lottery has lost some of its historical meaning, but the village does remember the most important details. For one, Mr. Summers may mention “making a new box, but no one [wishes] to upset… tradition” (Jackson 1). Of course, some “original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago,” (Jackson 1) but the black box is still used, and it’s older than Old Man Warner!
True, Mr. Summers does make necessary changes to the lottery such as “[substituting paper] for the chips of wood that had been used for generations [wood made sense] when the village was tiny [but since] the population was… likely to keep on growing, it was necessary to [fit] into the black box” (Jackson 2). Following tradition, “a great deal of fussing [is] to be done [before the] swearing-in of Mr. Summers” (Jackson 2) and only then may the lottery begin. A few claim that “there had been a recital [others thought] the official…used to stand [while some] believed that he [was to] walk among the people, [but years ago] this part of the ritual had been allowed to lapse” (Jackson 2). But at least the lottery does continue in this village!
Unlike those other villages that the Adams confirm, “have already quit lotteries [or are] talking of giving up the lottery” (Jackson 4). Thankfully, Old Man Warner reminds everyone of “a saying about Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (Jackson 4). Like the rest of the world, the town continues to change with the times. For instance, there is now a coal mine, a grocery store, and a post office. So, it’s natural to lose a little bit of history and tradition but at least “[the village remembers] to use stones” (Jackson 7).
Many of the changes are a result of developing technology and a growing population. For years to come, one could expect the culture of Jackson-village to transform steadily. Plus, nobody ever even bothered to write the lottery traditions down! The customs are not documented but passed along orally. Unfortunately, no “sacred or traditional [tale], can be told [without variation that] threatens the validity of [tradition]” (Crowley qtd. in Bronner).
It is said, “Narrators are not merely [tradition holders they] are choosers, arrangers, and performers” (Crowley qtd. in Bronner). It’s easy to see that forgetfulness and trust can (and will) be used against Jackson-village.
Stay tuned for the finale!
Bronner, Simon J. Following Tradition: Folklore in the Discourse of American Culture. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 1998, p. 45.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery.
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