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Marxism in "The Lottery"

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Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” shows how the upper class in a society can control the working man through fear or psychological manipulation, and live in luxury while those around them suffer. The politics and economics in the story both show this, and the main ideas can even be linked to history. The carefree manner in which the story is told only reinforces this idea, making it more horrifying to the reader.

As for the politics, the ruling class in the story rules both through fear and more subtle manipulation of the proletariat. Mr. Summers, being the most powerful man in the village, uses both methods effectively. This is made clear when he’s first introduced; “He was a round-faced, jovial man and he ran the coal business, and people were sorry for him because he had no children and his wife was a scold” (Jackson 1). Because he runs the main industry and is apparently the main employer of the town, many of the villagers wouldn’t want to oppose him simply for fear of losing their jobs. However, when Tessie Hutchinson shows opposition to the lottery, it just so happens that she is picked to be stoned to death, which is quite possibly not a coincidence, what with Mr. Summers running the lottery. His choice of marrying a scolding wife may have been a political move as well, designed to make those who wouldn’t fear him feel sorry for and obey him anyway. Another example of the subtle manipulation used in the story is the indoctrination of the children; they’re taught to look at the lottery as a game, as is seen through the description of how the children prepare for it: “Bobby Martin had stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones[…]” (1). Because the children are raised with the tradition of the lottery, they see it as a normal thing, and have no means to question it.

Economically, the situation in the story isn’t much different from that all over the world; the rich have power over the working class. For instance, besides running the coal business of the town, Mr. Summers runs all civic activities. It’s stated that he “had time and energy to devote to civic activities” (1). This implies that his regular job doesn’t require much time or energy, as opposed to the jobs of the rest of the villagers, who are always working or farming. The financial security of his job gives him both the time and the resources to continue to rule as he does. The working class, on the other hand, is held down both by the time and money constraints placed on them by their jobs, and so are given no means to rebel. This can even be seen through the children, who had just finished school for the summer; “School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them” (1). This shows that any liberty isn’t something they’re very used to, even at their age.

The upper class ruling the working class in such a way, and general fear of social change as illustrated in the story, isn’t at all unheard-of in history. The history of Chicago is a prime example of this. For instance, the story of the Union Stockyards is rife with accounts of workers expected to work long hours for little pay. The only reason why the workers didn’t have a major uprising was out of fear of losing their jobs, much like how Mr. Summers keeps his coal workers in check in “The Lottery.” The workers in the story, much like those in the stockyards, are in this way deprived of their means to social change.

“The Lottery” essentially expresses a fear of what will happen when class distinctions grow too wide and the rich are allowed to rule. This can be seen through the politics and economics of the story, and connected to history.



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