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
Human Nature Quotes in The Lottery
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.
“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.