THE LOTTERY by Shirley Jackson part 2


As dismal as this picture seems, the one thing we ought not do is make it into proof of the innate depravity of man. The first line of the second paragraph-"The children assembled first, of course" (Jackson p.291)--does not imply that children take a "natural" and primitive joy in stoning people to death. The closer we look at their behavior, the more we realize that they learned it from their parents, whom they imitate in their play. In order to facilitate her reader's grasp of this point, Jackson has included at least one genuinely innocent child in the story-Davy Hutchinson. When he has to choose his lottery ticket, the adults help him while he looks at them "wonderingly" (Jackson p. 300). And when Tessie is finally to be Stoned, "someone" has to "[give] Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles" (Jackson p. 301) to stone his mother. The village makes sure that Davy learns what he is supposed to do before he understands why he does it or the consequences. But this does not mean that he could not learn otherwise.

How do we take such a pessimistic vision of the possibility of social transformation? If anything can be said against "The Lottery," it is probably that it exaggerates the monolithic character of capitalist Ideological hegemony. No doubt, capitalism has subtle ways of redirecting the frustrations it engenders away from a critique of capitalism itself. Perhaps it is not Jackson's intention to deny this, but to shock her complacent reader with an exaggerated image of the ideological modus operandi of capitalism: accusing those whom it cannot or will not employ of being lazy, promoting "the family" as the essential social unit in order to discourage broader associations and identifications, offering men power over their wives as a consolation for their powerlessness in the labor market, and pitting workers against each other and against the unemployed. It is our fault as readers if our own complacent pessimism makes us read Jackson's story pessimistically as a parable of man's innate depravity.