The Attraction of Violence

The Attraction of Violence

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is the short story of a village that annually holds a deadly lottery. Although “The Lottery” is often viewed as a condemnation on blindly following traditions, the undercurrent of grim pleasure that runs throughout the story sug­gests that the villagers are not simply sheep mindlessly trapped in some macabre drama. Instead, we see that the villagers choose to maintain the ritual, even when a couple of townspeople show some dissension. This story is a grim reminder that man is inherently evil, even in the setting of a seemingly civilized town and that gaining satisfaction from seeing others suffer is not limited to Jackson’s fictional world.

The first evidence we see that the lottery is eagerly anticipated is in the actions of the young boys. They fill their pockets with stones and make a large pile as well (Jackson 365). There is also a feeling of casualness that permeates the atmosphere of the gathering crowd. The men joke and smile, albeit quietly, and the women and girls gossip and talk amongst themselves (Jackson 365). Mr. Summers, the official in charge of the ritual, arrives in a jovial manner calling, “‘A little late today, folks'” (Jackson 365). Also, his cheerful declaration to Tessie a bit later: ‘”Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie”‘ and her answering grin implies that the ritual is not feared but welcomed (Jackson 367).

Also supporting the idea that the lottery is enjoyed is the attitude of Tessie herself. She arrives after everyone else, having forgotten the date, but once she realizes the day, she comes “‘a- running'” (Jackson 367). Ironically, she seems the most cavalier about the ritual, evidenced in her joking comment to her husband,

‘”Get up there, Bill'” (Jackson 368).Mrs. Hutchinson’s cavalier and cheerful behavior suggests that she is looking forward to the stoning. Only after her odds of being killed have risen dramatically after her husband draws the unlucky paper does she speak out against the practice. Had another family been chosen, it is probable that she would not have spoken out.

As various characters are introduced, it is implied that several villagers have lost family members to the tradition, such as the Watsons. The oldest son of this family draws instead of his father and the comment, “‘Glad to see your mother’s got a man to do it,'” hints that the father was probably a victim – however, no one seems to lament his absence (Jackson 367). Even though the lottery, having been performd annually for hundreds of years, has claimed many lives, there IS no mention of those who were killed ­ no remorse or sadness. Instead, there are only two brief offhand comments made by two women:


“Seems like there’s no time at all between lotteries anymore,” Mrs. Delacroix said to Mrs. Graves in the back row.  “Seems like we got through with the last one only last week.”

“Time sure goes by fast,” Mrs. Graves said.(Jackson 368)


As A R. Coulthard points out in his essay “Jackson’s The Lottery,” there is “no genuine human community, no real bond of love” (Coulthard 226). Were the villagers reluctant to perform the ritual, it would follow that there would be sorrow for at least the one most recently killed In addition, there is only the barest hint of dissention, and that is made by the Adams family. However, their brief comments that “‘some places have already quit lotteries'” are not supported by any other villagers and are quickly rebuked by Old Man Warner (Jackson 368). This shows that the villagers truly do not want to give up their bloody ritual, even when offered a chance.

Perhaps the most shocking moment of the story comes when the Hutchinson family is required to draw amongst them­ selves to see who will be stoned to death. Not only are the parents and older children required to draw, but also little Davy Hutchinson, who is no more than a toddler (Jackson 370). Had Davy drawn the unlucky paper, it is safe to assume that the villagers would have stoned him to death. As it is, Tessie draws the paper and immediately, the horror is amplified. Mr. Summers declares “‘All right folks…let’s finish this quickly'” and Mrs. Delacroix, who had been joking and laughing with Tessie a short while before picks up “a stone so large, she had to pick it up with both hands” (Jackson 371). Even Davy is given stones to throw (Jackson 371). The fact that the villagers are able to so quickly and easily stone to death one of their own is shocking. Clearly, had they truly abhorred the practice of the lottery, there would be hesitation evident in their actions. Instead, they go about the execution with a sickening eagerness.

Coulthard argues that the lottery “fulfills a deep and horrifying need” (Coulthard 228). Is Jackson’s fictional village representative of the maliciousness that lingers in men’s hearts? In her commentary on  her story, Shirley Jackson describes some of the disturbing reactions that her story garnered. She writes that people “wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go and watch” (Jackson 880). Unfortunately, there is evidence throughout human history that people enjoy inflicting pain or watching others suffer. The Roman arena is one of the most famous examples, where thousands of people flocked to stadiums to watch gladiators fight to the death or Christians be killed by lions. However, such bloodthirsty behavior is not limited to ancient times.

In 1961, researcher Stanley Milgram conducted experiments to see if people would willingly electrocute someone if they knew they would not get in trouble. The volunteers were told they were “teachers” and were instructed to shock the “learner” (actually a researcher) in an electric chair if the learner answered a question wrong (Ablow). U.S. News reports “In Milgram’s experiments, 82.5 percent of the participants continued administering shocks even after hearing the first cries of pain at the alleged 150-volts level” (“Researcher Finds Most Will Inflict Pain on Others If Prodded”). Doctor Keith Ablow states, “Milgram had proven that average individuals presented with rules and an authority figure to enforce them (the experimenter), would hurt other innocent people they had never met” (Ablow).

In 2008, this experiment was replicated by Professor Jerry M. Burger of Santa Clara University, who found that “70 percent also wanted to continue when they hit that same level” (“Researcher Finds Most Will Inflict Pain on Others If Prodded”). AB these startling experiments show, people are more than willing – perhaps even eager – to inflict pain on others if instructed by an authority figure. Likewise, the villagers in Jackson’s story had rules that “instructed” them to annually kill someone by a lottery. Perhaps they used tradition and rules to reconcile their horrifying behavior, but regardless, they stoned someone to death year after year and there is no evidence in the story that they truly regretted it.

The attitude of the villagers contradicts the common assumption that they are unwilling participants of the lottery. On the contrary, we find that they are agreeable to the practice and refuse to renounce it, even when learning that others have done so. Jackson’s story is shocking and appalling, but perhaps even more horrifying is that the villagers’ behavior is not entirely fictional. As Milgram’s and Burger’s experiments prove, people are not opposed to causing others pain, even possible death.  An initial reading of this story may result in disbelief that anyone could engage in such a practice, but after seeing real life accounts of human behavior, “The Lottery” suggests that there is more going on in the story than just blind acceptance. Instead, the story brings to light the dark desire within men’s hearts to gain pleasure from pain at the cost of others.

– Elizabeth Williams, 2nd Place in Essay