“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 Review:
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.
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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.
“Harry Houdini.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery.