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Marxist Criticism of "The Lottery"

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Shirley Jackson once said, “I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there” (Brainyquote). People genuinely tend to fear the unknown and Shirley Jackson made sure to include a big unknown in “The Lottery”, which is a story that involves a yearly lottery but the result of it is unknown. It isn’t until the very end that one realizes what the “reward” for winning the lottery is. Through this pent up suspense Shirley Jackson was able to make sure that the end result of the lottery was shocking to everyone. She used suspense to intensify the sense of terror when one discovers that end result of the lottery was death. In the short story “The Lottery”, Jackson shows how positions of power are important to the character that possess them and have consequences for the other characters.

To begin with, despite “The Lottery” being centered around a small seemingly democratic town, there is a main focus on giving one’s self up for the greater good. This belief begins to create a power struggle in the town with the old generation versus the new generation. “The Lottery” has a strong focus on withholding traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. Just before the lottery picking, Mr. Adams says, “That over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery” (Jackson). Even though the lottery is a tradition that has been upheld for years and years and years, the newer generations are beginning to question the old generations’ methods of doing things. The old generation however does not feel the same way about the lottery. Old Man Warner- the oldest man in town- says, “Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work anymore, live that way for awhile” (Jackson) after hearing that some villages were eliminating the lottery. Warner strongly believes that in order to live a civilized life, the town needs the lottery otherwise the village will resort to living in caves because they won’t want to go through the work of keeping other civilized traditions alive. One can clearly see that the old versus new conflict creates negative implications for the village because the citizens are a standstill as to what should get accomplished.

Next, positions of power play an important role in the society found within “The Lottery”. Although the society in “The Lottery” is supposed to a uniform effort from everyone of equal status, there are still a selected few who have more power than everyone else. Out of the three hundred people in the town, two hold the most power; they are Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves. Mr. Summers is on an even higher social ranking than Mr. Graves. An example of this can be seen in this quote, “ The lottery was conducted-as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program- by Mr. summers, who had time and energy to devote to civic activities” (Jackson). This statement makes it clear that Mr. Summers is a man of wealth so he has the time required to be in charge of the lottery along with other community involved activities. No one else in the town can take responsibility for the lottery, so the future of all the citizens’ basically rests in the hand s of one man, Mr. Summers. This power then leads to the citizens being fearful of Mr. Summers because their future seems to lie in his hands. The fear of this one man can be seen when everyone hesitates to help Mr. Summers in setting up for the lottery, “The villagers kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool, and when Mr. Summers said, “Some of you fellows want to give me a hang?” there was a hesitation before two men, Mr. Marin and his oldest son, Baxter, came forward to hold the box steady on the stool while Mr. Summers stirred up the papers inside it” (Jackson). The village people were extremely hesitant to assist Mr. Summers because of how tense the atmosphere was due to his presence and the lottery itself. There is a clear air of distrust between Mr. Summers and the village people.

Finally, the major implication created in the village because of the multiple power struggles is that everyone blindly follows a tradition with a dislike for change. The town’s people in “The Lottery” follow a tradition without knowing exactly where the roots of the lottery came from or why exactly they have to have a lottery. Jackson provides a strong example of this through this particular quote, “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” (Jackson). The black box that hold the lottery slips represents the villagers’ need to uphold tradition even if it might not be good for them. The black box becomes shabbier and shabbier as the years pass on but because of a story passed down through generations, no one wants to change it. This ties along to the lottery itself because like the black box, no one wants to change the lottery traditions themselves, even when it proves to be detrimental to them. This refusal to change things also demonstrates how willing the villagers are to mercilessly kill their friends, family, and neighbors without taking into consideration where the lottery’s roots were derived from. The villagers unite together to uphold the traditions of the lottery so nothing ever changes. When the lottery is questioned, everyone puts that questioner down in order to maintain their traditions. This can be seen during the stoning of Mrs. Hutchinson. Her husband willingly gave her up to be stoned without a second thought, even though she stood up for him. Everyone turned on Mrs. Hutchinson as soon as they knew she had the marked slipped of paper. Mrs. Hutchinson was the only one who questioned the lottery when she said, “”It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchison screamed, and then they were upon her” (Jackson). This quote demonstrates one person against an entire society isn’t powerful enough to change something unless others are willing to help. The power struggle in “The Lottery” creates negative implications for the society because it makes it difficult for things to change.

Shirley Jackson’s ability to utilize fear to create suspense makes “The Lottery” a powerful story. This ability helps Jackson demonstrate how positions of power are important and consequential. “The Lottery” is a principle example of why tradition and changed need to be weighed evenly before ultimately making a choice between the two. Innocent people died in “The Lottery” simply because they were unlucky, but not because they did something wrong. Blindly following tradition can be detrimental if the roots of said tradition are unknown but forgetting about the past can be just as harmful. This story ably demonstrates change may also be beneficial to a society as long as all options are weighed equally and open mindedly because evolution is the key to human survival.
Works Cited
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 2008. Print.
"Shirley Jackson Quotes - BrainyQuote." Famous Quotes at BrainyQuote. Web. 08 Apr. 2011. <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/s/shirley_jackson.html>.




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Cody K. said...
May 5, 2011 at 12:06 pm:
I dont really understand how you said that the lottery has been a tradition for years and years and years but yet the old generation is still talking bad about it? hmm but overall it was a good marxist article. Also the other criticism i would recommend is feminist because looking at the typical male they are "rulers" as what females think. :)
 
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