The Lottery

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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.
Human Nature Theme Icon

Jackson examines the basics of human nature in “The Lottery,” asking whether or not all humans are capable of violence and cruelty, and exploring how those natural inclinations can be masked, directed, or emphasized by the structure of society. Philosophers throughout the ages have similarly questioned the basic structure of human character: are humans fundamentally good or evil? Without rules and laws, how would we behave towards one another? Are we similar to animals in our basic selfish needs, or do we possess unusual rationality, or unusual cruelty, that sets us apart from the rest of the natural world?

“The Lottery” asks these same questions through its depiction of an ordinary town that is capable of unusual violence. Numerous details in the text establish the fundamental normality of this unnamed town, which is intentionally designed to seem timeless and universal. Because this town could exist in so many different places and time periods, Jackson is drawing the reader’s attention to the universality of the ideas she examines. If this type of violence could happen anywhere—as Jackson suggests—then it must be due to some innate aspect of human character.

With the brutal ending of her story, Jackson argues that humans are self-serving and capable of great cruelty—as long as they think their actions won’t have repercussions that harm them directly. In the town, no one speaks out against the lottery before a name is drawn. Tessie Hutchinson finally protests when she is singled out, saying “it isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” but this objection is raised too late. The other villagers are clearly relieved not have been selected, and they speak from a position of security, reminding Tessie that “all of us took the same chance.” Though the villagers have lost or discarded certain aspects of the ritual of the lottery over time, “they still remembered to use stones”—implying that the central, murderous act of the lottery is an unforgettable human “tradition.” Even Davy Hutchinson, a child, is given stones to throw at his mother, and other young children gather the stones for the ritual. The prevalence of violence in children, Jackson suggests, is even more conclusive proof that violence and cruelty is an inherent part of human nature.

Human Nature ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Lottery related to the theme of Human Nature.
The Lottery Quotes

Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix—the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”—eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys.

Related Characters: Dickie Delacroix, Bobby Martin, Harry Jones
Related Symbols: Stones
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

The exposition at the beginning of the story includes some details that are not fully explained, primarily the boys' project of collecting stones and piling them in the village square. At this point these activities seem harmless, like the familiar play of children, and the language of this passage contributes to the portrayal of this activity as innocent. Bobby, Harry, and Dickie guard their stones against the “raids” of the other children, and this detail shows that the children are collecting stones and stealing them from each other as a game. The inventive play of children, often featuring guarding and stealing, as in a game like “capture the flag,” is automatically associated with innocence, youth, and laughter. Although these boys aren’t described as laughing and happy, the reader assumes that they are enjoying their game.

The ending of the story and the usage of the stones fully explains the activity of the boys in this early passage—but from this innocent scene, the reader would not expect the outcome of the story. However, once the ending is known, this scene suddenly seems ominous: even the children’s games feature violence, including “raids,” chasing, and stealing from each other. Violence in this story is not restricted to some people or some ages—everyone is influenced by violence, which is shown to be an inevitable part of human nature.


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“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.

Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal company office.

Related Characters: Tessie Hutchinson, Bill Hutchinson, Mr. Joe Summers
Related Symbols: The marked slip of paper
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:

Once the members of the Hutchinson family each draw a slip of paper in stage two of the lottery, the children open theirs and are relieved that their slips of paper are blank. Tessie doesn’t unfold hers until her husband forces her hand open, revealing that she has been chosen by the lottery. This act shows Bill Hutchinson’s dominance over Tessie. When she first appears in the story, Tessie is self-confident and funny, but her husband draws for their family in the lottery, tells her to shut up when she complains, and reveals that she is the victim of the lottery in this scene. All of these actions show Bill Hutchinson following the traditions of the village and the proceedings of the lottery rather than listening to his wife or trying to protect her from the lottery. It is clear that his love for her (if he does love her) is outweighed by his devotion to the tradition of the lottery.

The slip of paper in Tessie’s hand was marked by Mr. Summers with a pencil the night before. This detail shows the contrast between the object of the marked slip of paper and the importance the villagers place on it. The process of making the slip of paper is as mundane and unimportant as it could be. But at the same time, the marked paper decides the very life or death of a person. This reinforces the ridiculousness of the lottery, and how the villagers adhere to it despite many indications that it is insignificant and pointless, in addition to being cruel and harmful. It is only tradition and a fear of change that keeps the village entrenched in this monstrous practice.

Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box…

Related Characters: Tessie Hutchinson
Related Symbols: Stones, The Black Box
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Tessie has been selected as the victim of the lottery, the truth of the tradition is revealed as the villagers pick up stones. This quote describing the villagers’ act of arming themselves with stones reminds the reader of several key ideas already established in the story. First, this passage points out the aspects of the lottery that have been lost, but they are set up as different than the use of stones, which has been consistent throughout the years that the lottery has been in existence. Therefore, the villagers don’t forget to use stones, which shows that violence (unlike other details of ritual) is unforgettable. Using a stone as a weapon is part of human psychology, a primitive means of attack or self-defense.

This quote also references the beginning of the story, where the young boys were collecting stones. This early passage is recast in a grim light as these stones, which the reader once assumed to be playthings, are transformed into murder weapons. Even the young children are involved in this violence, which further shows that violence is instinctual. Innocent activities, such as children playing or the everyday life in this village, do not exclude the possibility of violence, which can occur anywhere.

The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles.

Related Characters: Tessie Hutchinson, Davy Hutchinson
Related Symbols: Stones
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:

The villagers pick up stones to use them as weapons, but the children have already armed themselves. Little Davy Hutchinson, Tessie's son, is too young to understand the proceedings, but someone older gives him some stones. This quote shows that even the children are enthusiastic about the proceedings of the lottery when they get swept up in the crowd—illustrating how violence is part of human nature, as this story repeatedly emphasizes. But, at the same time, this quote also shows that violence can be a learned behavior. Because Davy Hutchinson is given stones by someone older than himself, he is being taught to participate in violence.

Therefore, in this story, violence arises from both nature and nurture. In a village where conformity and tradition are highly valued, the next generation is taught to follow the actions of an older generation. This also shows how traditions are continued and maintained: they are learned from an older generation. Despite the discussion in this story of an end to the lottery in this village, it seems clear that the next generation is already learning to carry on this violent tradition.

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.