This work deserves to be seen the way it was meant to be, in its entirety. It is with great hope that the reader enjoys this piece. It remains one of my personal favorite writings. TheDR.World sincerely hopes the reader enjoys the tale of Rock-Paper-Scissors (a Literal Metaphor). The desired intent is to discover that reading can be pleasant and to encourage all to explore their own creativity.
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“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).
Perhaps, Mrs. Jackson didn’t know, was being coy, or a combination of both. A plain-spoken narrative of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is an annual coming together of a village “in the square…at ten o’clock [to kill someone and still able to] get home for noon dinner” (Jackson 1). Nothing wrong with a straight-ahead approach, right? After all, who doesn’t love the suspense of a lottery to determine a “random” winner of mob brutality?
However, individual sacrifice is only a part of the man faces adversity plot line. Just kidding, there is little to no way a man is going to be “randomly” chosen. Thankfully, Jackson’s words remain allowing for anyone (that can read and utilize their imagination) to take a journey into the village of “The Lottery.” What follows is one such trip of discovery to the village. At times, this journey may refer to the village as “Jackson-village” to accommodate those that may not enjoy reading, “the village this, village that, village, village, village [sic].” Jackson-village is a small but growing, community that faces several conflicts of a changing world.
In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” three themes of this struggle center around societal stratification, arbitrary customs, and corrupt authority. As you learn about the “growing pains” of Jackson-village, please keep in mind, perhaps not all towns may hold an annual “rock” show, but they too have their unique quirks.
The first theme of struggle within “The Lottery” will focus on social stratification. This stratification is evident not only among the adults but also includes the children. The boys are prone to being rowdy! They also enjoy their rocks! They even make sure the pile is “guarded [from the] other boys [as the girls stand by]” (Jackson 1). The men converge as their women quickly follow to join their husbands. Then, the women may try to round up their rowdy boys, but their calls are often ignored. One such time, Bobby Martin even “ducked under his mother’s grasping hand and ran, laughing… [when his father called] Bobby came quickly” (Jackson 1). After all, Jackson-village is a male-dominant society—men make the rules!
One example of such rules is the annual lottery that may result in women being “more prone than men to be the victims of the stoning” (Hattenhauer 297). The lottery does “[inspire] maximum childbearing…[as] a married woman minimizes her chances of being selected by delivering babies.” (Hattenhauer 302). Make no mistake, men do run the village, but even they are subject to a stratification within such a heavy-handed culture.
The king of this jungle village is Mr. Summers, a man of prestige, as he runs the coal company and has “time and energy to devote to civic activities” (Jackson 1). Therefore, he conducts the lottery with the assistance of Mr. Graves. Mr. Graves, a government representative, is the village postmaster. What is the greatest symbol of their power? Control!
Specifically, control of the black box and stool. Most folks keep far away from the black box, even when Mr. Summers asks for a hand.
Only Mr. Martin, the grocery store owner, and his kin come to assist. For such acts, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves are kind enough to share some authority with Mr. Martin. Only prestigious and trustworthy men can ensure the safekeeping of the sacred box. So, the responsibility to secure the black box is shared, and occasionally it is stored in “Mr. Grave’s barn…[or] in the post office…and sometimes in the Martin grocery” (Jackson 2). Mr. Martin is a prestigious and trustworthy man. Nonetheless, Mr. Martin can’t run the lottery or directly assist—there’s a pecking order, you know?
These three men share the highest authority—the black box. However, only Mr. Summers carries the remarkable burden of managing the long-held traditional lottery.
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.
The third (and final) theme of struggle within “The Lottery” centers around corrupt authority. Have no illusions; this is Mr. Summers’ town. The village folk respect and have empathy for Mr. Summers, and he has taken advantage of them for it. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Summers, does not simply run the lottery—he owns it.
You see, Mr. Summers has been conducting the lottery for a long time. Long enough to change the rules without much questioning. Somewhere along the way, Mr. Summers learned to “rig” the event; he chooses who lives or dies. The black box is his power.
Only Summers, Graves and the Martins will get close to the box as everyone else is afraid to do so. Fear allowed the rise of authoritarian tomfoolery. For example, Mr. Summers desire to build a new box but quickly caves when the folks get in an uproar.
Because the uproar creates a distraction that allows Mr. Summers to modify other lottery traditions without protest (such as replacing chips with paper). Without oversight, Mr. Summers creates the papers (an opportunity to cheat). Certainly, an illusionist could “stack the deck” to his pleasing. After all, any game of chance can be modified for the desired outcome. Like any trickster, he knows his actions must be swift, deliberate, and the lottery must end as soon as possible.
The longer it goes, the more likely his misdeed may be discovered. Mr. Summers corruption is not his alone, as Mr. Graves (the “assistant”) and the Martins are “in” on his secret. These men are a relaxed team that distracts the disinterested turned nervous crowd. Mr. Summers and Graves “select” their paper whereas everyone else must “pick” theirs.
Before the grand finale, here are a few of Jackson’s clues that may support the cheating claim. The first is that Mr. Summers runs the Halloween program and additional clues which serve as an homage to his “magical” talent with a discreet ode to Houdini. Mr. Houdini died on October 31, 1926; his first name is the same as Mr. Harry Graves (Harry Houdini Biography). It doesn’t stop there, the man that gave Houdini his “big break” was named Martin Beck (Harry Houdini Biography). Incidentally, Mr. Summers first name is the same as Houdini’s magic teacher, Joe (Birnes and Martin).
Now back to the lottery, Mr. Summers may have had someone else in mind to die in the lottery, but it would become evident that Tessie Hutchinson must be the one. What was her crime? Her first mistake was showing up late. Sure, Mr. Summers had also been late—but nobody spoke up about it (out of respect). When Tessie shows, Mr. Summers points out her tardiness and what does she do? She offers a retort that results in laughter aimed at Joe Summers.
At this moment, Mr. Joe Summers decided she would die.
Perhaps, Mr. Summers uses the lottery to snuff out a woman to survive his scolding wife. Tessie will not go quietly and appears to catch-on to the “stacking of the deck” that ensures her husband picks the black mark. She may not have been the only witness to the crime as Old Man Warner points out, “It’s not the way it used to be,” and that, “People ain’t the way they used to be” (Jackson 6). Mr. Summers shouts her down and advances quickly to the last round as Mr. Graves collects and throws the papers to distract the disinterested turned frantic crowd. Tessie knows that the lottery is not fair. Then, for the first and last time in her life, Tessie gets “stoned.”
Nearly seventy years after it was written, Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” remains a relevant tale of struggle. The men dominate the women with a few dominant men ruling all. Authority mixes with a changing world that creates a clash of tradition as the old world slips away. As the culture shifts, one group seizes power over the people and traditions. Over time, the leader uses his authority to determine who dies. In this cautionary tale, there is a glimpse of hope that as the civilization expands the lottery may cease. When that day arrives, the village will cut away from the archaic ritual like scissors cut through paper. Perhaps, Jackson-village is a community that has not yet learned to play rock-paper-scissors.
Birnes, William J., and Joel Martin. The Haunting of America: from the Salem Witch Trials to Harry Houdini. New York, Tor, 2011, p. 344. Print.
Bronner, Simon J. Following Tradition: Folklore in the Discourse of American Culture. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 1998, p. 45. Print.
“Harry Houdini.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television.
Hattenhauer, Darryl. Shirley Jackson’s American Gothic. Albany, US: SUNY Press,
2003, pp. 297-302.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery.
“‘The Lottery’ ‘The Lottery’.” The New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed.
27 Aug. 1988. http://www.nytimes.com.