Analysis of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

Zeynep Aydın
4 min readMay 14, 2019

This short story starts with a sunny and bright day. It is almost feels like it is written from a children’s perspective that you cant even tell how dark the story actually is. As humans we have this tendency to choose a victim, at the end being superior than someone and picking up their bad sides always leads to feeling better at the end. Thinking or saying someone is dirty automatically makes us feel clean, saying someone is ugly makes us feel beautiful, this basic idea cumulatively becomes choosing a scapegoat over the time. The reason this short story really gets our attention its because we all have this tendencies; while reading this story it almost gives reader an inner relief that they are not chosen nor will be sacrificed. First we approve Tessie’s behavior while she is protecting her husband but in a second when she was the loser of the lottery it almost feels like she was being stupid and that was her mistake to raise her voice.

One of my favorite part from this story that it shows how twisted people really are, one of the neighbors from village who is a friend of Tessie’s as well has a quick chat with her before the lottery begins but when Tessie was chosen writer gives an amazing hint with saying “ Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands”. This also reminded me two different things; first one is Freud’s distinction between the life instinct and the death instinct of humans, this death instinct appears as the ‘destructive instinct’ and leads people to act in destructive and a violent way, when this opportunity was given Delacroix really picks up the largest stone that she could find in order to throw her neighbor which she was just chatting, destructive tendencies are inevitable. Second thing that I could easily associate with Delacroix’s behavior is an experiment, while studying Psychology I was purely shocked with the Milgram Shock Experiment and mostly my shock was coming from the obedience and the tendency to violence of individuals. This story states two different obedience style; I believe that it is a critical analysis of the obedience of humans to traditions, if we dig deep most of the traditions comes from very disturbing beliefs whether it is wedding ceremony or a wedding dress, but most of the time calling them ‘traditions’ just legitimizes this disturbing ideas and makes the disturbing truth behind it harder to realize. This way calling this dark story where one is choosing to be killed as ‘lottery’ makes it unrealizable, there is no loser and there is no winner in this game, in this case calling the loser and their death as an expression of sacrifice is identically same with the idea of legitimization, makes it harder to understand that it is a harsh process and people are actually dying with this belief it cover up the whole behind story and makes people believe that they died because of a reason, they died because of a goal… In this case the goal and the reason behind the lottery is just to have better seasons or to have a better harvest, killing someone that you know and live in the same neighbor also killing them with your bare hands and stones as a community just for this cause, not that much of a satisfying answer, isn’t it?

Let’s talk about the old and damaged “black box”. We have already mentioned that most of the traditions we have those days, carries a big dark history behind it even if its culture dependent it still has deeper meaning than it seems if you dig deep. In the story we see this black box and they talk about how old it is, but they still hold on to it and continue using it. This black box references is actually similar with the beliefs that we hold today towards are traditions, we know they are old, we know they don’t apply anymore, we know the traditions does not carry the same message and the meaning anymore, but we continue to live according to them. Moreover “black box” also applies the same meaning for the tradition in the story which is the “lottery” itself, while reading it, readers can sense the lottery has become something that is very usual, a tradition that does not have any function characters also says stuff like ‘let’s get it over with’, all of this applies to the traditions that we have nowadays. Lets learn what’s behind our traditions, think through our head whether it makes sense or not and eventually if it does not serve a function for individuals and world around us, we should hundred percent let it go and start to set our own traditions.

I know that there is still lots of bits and pieces that we can find inside of the story, but those were the main questions emerged in my head while reading this story. I hope you read this masterpiece by Shirley Jackson and see what it brings to your mind, for those who have already read the story I hope this will encourage you to look at the story from a different perspective. Let me know what you think, thank you for reading.