The lottery by Shirley Jackson is a short interesting story that is full of suspense. The author makes use of comedy and irony to portray the underlying hypocrisy, evil and weakness of mankind. The book talks of a story of a yearly ritual (lottery) carried out in a small village, where people adhere to their traditions. In the lottery, an individual is randomly selected from the town, through a drawing, and the person is subjected to violent stoning by his family and friends. The ritual is conducted by everyone in the town, and it has been there for a long time; in fact no one recalls how the ritual actually started.
Jackson’s description of the existing social environment just before the drawing, "They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip…" (p. 281) is an indication of just how the event was welcomed among the people. The way the lottery is conducted, leaves so much anticipation in the villagers, such that they expect the winner of the lottery to win something at the end. The reader is kept in suspense and only learns about the fate (death) of the lottery winner, when the story ends.
The fact that the lottery takes place in a friendly atmosphere, with ordinary people, with ordinary names such as Martin, Warner, Anderson etc., and the people treat the lottery ritual as a normal event, is an indication that persons are not all the times what they appear to be. Extreme evil is taking place in this friendly environment, yet it is treated so ordinarily. This implies that beneath a person’s outer niceness, there may be an underlying evil.
The name of the man in charge of the lottery; Mr. Summers is associated with a jovial mood. It is used to depict the tone of the occasion, while underscoring the final irony. The name of Mr. Graves, on the other hand, who is the assistant to Mr. Summers, has been used to symbolize the underlying tragedy, which is not revealed until the story ends. Warner’s statement, "There's always been a lottery" (p. 284), means that the ritual has been carried out in the town for along time, and continues to be performed without facing opposition; an indication of the people’s hypocrisy and wickedness. However, some people seem not comfortable entirely with the ritual, but they lack the guts to disapprove the lottery openly, for fear of the society’s rejection. This is evident in comments such as "Don't be nervous Jack" (p. 284); depicting human weakness.
The strong adherence of the people to their belief is evident in their reluctance for the black box, which is described as "Faded and stained" (p. 281) to be replaced with a new one. The people do not want to go against their tradition, and therefore, they reject Mr. Summers’ proposal of making a new box. The black box is stained and worn out, a symbol of the old-fashioned tradition of the lottery.
The author uses Mrs. Hutchinson, to represent the weakness and hypocrisy of human beings. She arrives at the event pretending to be very happy; she is seen conversing with other women in a jovial mood. However, she suddenly reveals her true character; selfishness, when she realizes that her chances of escaping the black dot were slim; she even pleads that her daughter and the husband be included in the drawing of the family to enhance her chances of survival. Her selfishness is shown in her scream, "There's Don and Eva, make them take their chance!" (p. 285). When it is finally discovered that, Mrs. Hutchinson, has the paper with the black dot, it was clear that she was the one to be stoned. On realizing that she was the one to die, she continues screaming about the unfairness of the ritual, until she is finally stoned. This shows her selfishness and lack of love for her family; she was willing to participate in the drawing as long as it was not her was to be stoned. The lottery is a true indication of the evil and the irony that happens in our society today.