Jackson’s “The Lottery” was published in the years following World War II, when the world was presented with the full truth about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. In creating the dystopian society of her story, Jackson was clearly responding to the fact that “dystopia” is not only something of the imagination—it can exist in the real world as well. Jackson thus meditates on human cruelty—especially when it is institutionalized, as in a dystopian society—and the societal structures that feed and direct this cruelty.
One such structure—and the primary one examined in “The Lottery”—is the advantage of the many against the few. A major focus of Nazi ideology was the extermination of certain minorities in favor of the majority’s best interests. Likewise, “The Lottery” shows the villagers assume a mob-like mentality as they attack Tessie Hutchinson, the minute she has been “marked” as different. Would any one of them alone have attacked her? Some among the group certainly would not, but together they feel secure and justified, not just physically but also morally. This is especially evident in the moment when someone in the crowd hands little Davy Hutchinson some stones. Davy is too young to understand the proceedings, but he is encouraged by others to participate—even in the murder of his own mother. Mrs. Delacroix tells Mrs. Dunbar to “hurry up,” and Old Man Warner urges the other villagers on, saying, “come on, come on, everyone.” The villagers commit this violent act with the encouragement and reinforcement of others, and so the desire to conform to the status quo is part of what keeps the villagers participating in the lottery. No one wants to refuse to participate, thus standing alone and potentially being rejected by society. Ultimately Jackson warns us that we should be skeptical of all events and traditions that only continue because everyone is afraid to standing up against the majority. Fear of non-conformity often forces people to do things they would otherwise consider immoral, and when immoral acts are institutionalized as societal norms, they can lead to a dystopian society like that in “The Lottery.”
Dystopian Society and Conformity ThemeTracker
Dystopian Society and Conformity Quotes in The Lottery
The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here.
…at one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this part of the ritual had been allowed to lapse. There had been, also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use in addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this also had changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official to speak to each person approaching.
“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.”
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.”
Old Man Warner snorted. “Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,” he added petulantly. “Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody.”
“Some places have already quit lotteries,” Mrs. Adams said.
“Nothing but trouble in that,” Old Man Warner said stoutly. “Pack of young fools.”
“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.
“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.”
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.
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…
The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles.
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.