by Shirley Jackson
The Lottery Theme of Society and Class
On a basic level, "The Lottery" asks us to think about the rituals and traditions we unthinkingly follow as members of our society. Beyond critiquing the ways in which custom obscures right and wrong, the lottery also becomes a way of analyzing "traditional" social and gender divisions: the random distribution of paper means some families are fortunate and others aren't. We think it's significant that it's paper that has come to replace wood chips – much as paper money has taken the place of gold or goods for barter. The paper, either in the lottery or in your wallet, is symbolic of exchange value; as we get more "civilized," we lose track of what this paper really means. In the case of both the lottery and cash, paper can mean fortune, either good or bad – and it's disturbing how much life (and wealth) can be left up to the gambles of chance.
Questions About Society and Class
- How would you characterize the village's society? Happy? Affluent? Patriarchal? How does it compare to your own village/town/city?
- What kinds of values do the townspeople seem to hold about the social roles of men and women? Do these roles have any connection to the lottery?
- What's up with the children of the village – specifically the boys – being the first to stockpile stones? What, if anything, is Jackson trying to suggest about children?
- Do any class differences exist in "The Lottery"? What influence might that have on the story?
Chew on This
The villagers of "The Lottery" live in an intensely patriarchal society.
The anonymity of the village lends the story a sense of universality.