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The Lottery

The Lottery

by Shirley Jackson

Tess Hutchinson

Character Analysis

Mrs. Tess Hutchinson stands out right from the start: she arrives at the lottery late, having "clean forgot what day it was" (8). The town treats her tardiness lightly, but several people comment on it, "in voices just loud enough to be heard across the crowd" (9).

So Tess Hutchinson has already been marked by the collective as one who's not entirely part of the group; she's eager (maybe even too eager, for an adult) to be at the lottery, but she's not so big on observing the rules that the lottery (and tradition in general) seems to be all about reinforcing. Obviously, this refusal to adhere to the rules gets kind of thematized with her constant objections once Bill Hutchinson draws the marked strip of paper: she protests that Bill "didn't [have] time enough to take any paper he wanted" (46) and that it "wasn't fair" (this one she repeats a lot).

Beyond her rule breaking, there are further ways that Tess stands out. She seems really quite eager to join in the lottery. The narrator notes that "[the men] stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed" (3). Compare this relative solemnity (and promptness) with Tess Hutchinson, who "[comes] hurriedly along the path to the square" (8) and is reassured that she's "in time, though" (8). The other women wait and observe when their husbands draw; Tess says, "Get up there, Bill" (30). The people near her laugh, making her stand out once again.

Tess's eagerness to see the lottery through is only paralleled by her desperation to get out of it once it turns out to be her turn. She goes so far as to try to substitute her daughter and son-in-law for herself, yelling, "There's Don and Eva [...] Make them take their chance!" Her extreme moral compromise, as she tries to offer up her daughter for the slaughter instead of herself, underlines that this ritual has nothing to do with virtuous martyrdom; Tess is no saint. Her murder is exactly that: a vicious, group killing of a frightened, antiheroic woman.

In comparison to the heavily symbolic figures of Mr. Graves (Death), Mr. Summers (Progress), or Old Man Warner (Tradition), Tess is resolutely anti-symbolic. She's a woman in an apron with soapsuds on her hands, who cracks jokes and wants to join in her community – but, it turns out, they don't want her back. She's the sacrificial lamb for that year, an outsider that the village then violently excludes.

Adding insult to injury, Tess's own husband tells her to "shut up" (48) when she starts to contest his selection – as the head of the household, Bill is shamed by Tess's behavior. When the community as a whole repudiates her protests, telling her that "they all took the same chance" (47), Bill must join in the repudiation. One might speculate that he fears being tarred with the same brush, but we think it's something more disturbing than that: the tradition of the lottery appears so natural, so inevitable, to its participants that they cannot imagine protest; to do so seems like a sin against the institution of the lottery rather than the understandable pleas of a woman who doesn't want to die.

Tess Hutchinson Timeline
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