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
Family Structure and Gender Roles Quotes in The Lottery
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.