The Lottery

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Family Structure and Gender Roles Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Juxtaposition of Peace and Violence Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
Family Structure and Gender Roles Theme Icon
The Power of Tradition Theme Icon
Dystopian Society and Conformity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Lottery, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family Structure and Gender Roles Theme Icon

The ritual of the lottery itself is organized around the family unit, as, in the first round, one member of a family selects a folded square of paper. The members of the family with the marked slip of paper must then each select another piece of paper to see the individual singled out within that family. This process reinforces the importance of the family structure within the town, and at the same time creates a hierarchy within that structure—one that emphasizes the importance of gender roles.

The father is typically the one to draw the slip of paper on behalf of the rest of the family. This reinforces the idea that he is both the leader and the representative of his family unit—the “head of household.” This idea is further emphasized by the discussion that occurs after Clyde Dunbar’s absence is noticed. Mrs. Dunbar asserts that a “wife draws for her husband,” but Mr. Summers, who runs the lottery proceedings, asks whether Mrs. Dunbar has a grown son who could draw for her. Women are seen as more important or responsible than children, but as less important than men—even than male children who are barely old enough to accept the adult responsibility of drawing in the lottery. The dominance of men is again emphasized by the fact that daughters draw with their husbands’ families, not their parents’ families—women’s social identities in the story are defined by the men they marry.

By connecting this male-dominated social structure so closely with the basic operation of the lottery, Jackson subtly critiques it. She shows, on the one hand, how such a social structure leaves no room for anything but the “normal,” socially-approved family. It has no space for a non-traditional family, a single person, or a woman in a position of leadership. Jackson also critiques such a homogenous social structure through Tessie’s fate. Tessie is the prominent figure in the story, and her popularity and self-confidence are clear from the start. She makes others laugh and speaks up more often than any other member of her family—yet she is the one destroyed by the lottery. Tessie is a confident woman who speaks out vehemently against the lottery, so this makes her a threat to the status quo, and the ideally symbolic victim of the lottery.

Family Structure and Gender Roles ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Family Structure and Gender Roles appears in each chapter of The Lottery. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Family Structure and Gender Roles Quotes in The Lottery

Below you will find the important quotes in The Lottery related to the theme of Family Structure and Gender Roles.
The Lottery Quotes

Mr. Summers, who had been waiting, said cheerfully, “thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie.” Mrs. Hutchinson said, grinning, “Wouldn’t have me leave m’dishes in the sink, now, would you, Joe?” And soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson’s arrival.

Related Characters: Mr. Joe Summers (speaker), Tessie Hutchinson
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

Just as the lottery is about to begin, a nearly tardy villager arrives: Tessie Hutchinson. Tessie’s arrival immediately sets her apart from the crowd of villagers, as her late appearance suggests a casual attitude about the proceedings of the lottery. She also makes a joke and gets a positive response, which suggests her relaxed personality and shows how well-liked she is among the villagers.

At this point in the story, the reader is unaware of the grim truth about the lottery, but in retrospect the levity of this passage shows the lightheartedness with which these people treat violence. Both Tessie and Mr. Summers are cheerful, as if at a fun social gathering. Tessie changes when she is singled out by the lottery, but this passage raises the question: would Tessie have continued to be cheerful if she wasn’t the victim of the lottery?

This scene also shows the traditional gender roles of this village. Tessie is washing her dishes, and she jokes to Mr. Summers about whether she should have left them undone. This implies that a husband would chuckle appreciatively at a wife who was dedicated to her work. It is clear from this joke that Tessie doesn’t expect Mr. Summers or her husband to be doing the dishes—such domestic work is reserved exclusively for women.


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“Me, I guess,” a woman said, and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. “Wife draws for her husband.” Mr. Summers said. "”Don't you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?” “Horace’s not but sixteen yet,” Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. “Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year.”

Related Characters: Mr. Joe Summers (speaker), Mrs. Janey Dunbar (speaker), Clyde Dunbar, Horace Dunbar
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

The first stage of the lottery requires the head of each household to draw a slip of paper from the black box on behalf of his household. This task is always completed by the men of each family, with one exception this year: Mrs. Dunbar must draw for her incapacitated husband, who cannot attend the lottery. The discussion around this event shows the sexist assumptions behind the system of the lottery itself. The "head of household" is always assumed to be a man, meaning that a grown son will draw for his mother, as Mr. Summers wonders about in this passage.

The women accept this hierarchy—that only men can handle the responsibility of drawing for the lottery—as Mrs. Dunbar's statement and tone shows. She takes on the role of head of her household only “regretfully.” This is one of several passages that show the importance of the structure of the traditional family and the dynamic between men and women to the proceedings of the lottery. The formal proceedings of the lottery highlight the importance the village places on a patriarchal family hierarchy.

A tall boy in the crowd raised his hand. “Here,” he said. “I'm drawing for my mother and me.” He blinked his eyes nervously and ducked his head as several voices in the crowd said things like “Good fellow, Jack,” and “Glad to see your mother's got a man to do it.”

Related Characters: Jack Watson (speaker)
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:

The first stage of the lottery features the head of each household drawing a piece of paper from the black box, and, in this case, the head of the Watson household is the son, a young man named Jack. This quote implies that Jack’s father is dead, as he is not present to represent his family as the other men do. Gender is prioritized over age, clearly, as Jack assumes responsibility for his mother because she is a woman, even though she is older. Jack's youth is clear from this passage, as he is described as a “boy” and he blinks “nervously” as he comes forward. Jack is encouraged by being called a “good fellow” and “a man,” clearly showing that manliness and good character are associated with leading a household. Women are not treated as leaders in the lottery.

The reaction of the villagers to Jack’s involvement highlights the traditional gender roles in this village: men lead and women follow. The support of the villagers encourages other young men to value the ability to lead, to take care of women (including their mothers), and to uphold tradition in the village.

“Be a good sport, Tessie,” Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, “All of us took the same chance.”
“Shut up, Tessie,” Bill Hutchinson said.

Related Characters: Bill Hutchinson (speaker), Mrs. Graves (speaker), Mrs. Delacroix (speaker), Tessie Hutchinson
Page Number: 298-299
Explanation and Analysis:

When Bill Hutchinson draws the marked slip of paper from the black box, his wife protests against the proceedings of the lottery. Tessie’s tone changes dramatically from her original cheerfulness and humor, and despite her protests, the villagers are not sympathetic. This quote shows the readiness of these villagers to turn against each other when the stakes are high. Mrs. Delacroix and Mrs. Graves, who are friends and neighbors of Tessie's, do not listen to her complaints, as they are most likely relieved to not have been chosen themselves.

Bill Hutchinson’s reaction to his wife’s protests is more dramatic, as he overrides and silences her. This shows that he sees himself as the head of his household, and, according to the villagers' gender roles, able to tell his wife what to do. He belittles her, perhaps out of embarrassment that she would publicly complain about the proceedings of the lottery. It seems from the villagers’ reactions that Tessie has stepped out of line—by protesting, she hasn’t acted as she is expected to as a woman, wife, and villager.

“There’s Don and Eva,” Mrs. Hutchinson yelled. “Make them take their chance!”
“Daughters draw with their husbands’ families, Tessie,” Mr. Summers said gently. “You know that as well as anyone else.”

Related Characters: Tessie Hutchinson (speaker), Eva, Don, Mr. Joe Summers
Page Number: 299
Explanation and Analysis:

Tessie continues to protest about the proceedings of the lottery, despite the fact that the villagers and her husband try to silence her. Tessie’s complaints include her asking that Don and Eva also “take a chance” along with the rest of the family. Although the outcome of the lottery is still unclear to the reader at this point, Tessie’s strong reaction shows that it is not a desirable thing to be the person who picks the marked slip of paper. Although the exact identities of Don and Eva are not explained, this quote describes Eva as a daughter who is participating in the lottery with the family of her husband, Don. This implies that Eva was once a member of the Hutchinson household—probably Tessie’s daughter. Tessie knows the outcome of the lottery, yet she wants to force Don and Eva to also draw in the lottery with her family, presumably because this will increase the number of people participating in stage two of the draw, which only features the Hutchinson family. If more people draw, Tessie herself will be less likely to draw the marked slip of paper.

This quote shows a universal human need for survival and self-protection. Tessie is willing to risk her daughter and her daughter's husband in order to increase the chances of her own survival. Tessie is not a hero, despite her initial self-confidence and protestations against the barbaric lottery. Furthermore, the tradition of a daughter joining her husband to participate in the lottery shows again that women are treated as secondary to men in this village. According to traditional gender roles, a woman marries into her husband’s family, and not the reverse.

Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.
“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.

Related Characters: Tessie Hutchinson (speaker), Old Man Warner (speaker), Mrs. Graves, Steve Adams
Related Symbols: Stones
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:

The story ends with the stoning of Tessie Hutchinson. She stands alone in a cleared space as the villagers approach, armed with stones. This outcome of events unfolds in the last several few lines, making the "twist" particularly shocking, partly because of the effort early in the story to establish that this is an average, nice village. The cruelty of the villagers and their collective thinking is apparent in this final passage, especially in the last words “and then they were upon her”—language that evokes the brutality of a pack of dogs, not humans. Old Man Warner is egging the villagers on as they attack, encouraging them, showing that the villagers are working as a unit. Despite the mob mentality of the villagers, specific individuals are mentioned in the crowd. Steve Adams and Mrs. Graves  have already been established in the story as regular people, yet they appear eager for violence in this passage.

Tessie stands alone, her physical isolation showing that she has been isolated as a solitary voice standing up against the crowd. She tries to protest, shifting from “it isn’t fair” to “it isn’t right”—the last words the reader hears from her. She is the only voice of reason in a group that has gone insane. The fairness of the lottery has been emphasized to Tessie—as the other villagers reminded her that everyone took a fair chance at being chosen. However, it is clear Tessie's death is pointless and not right.