Study Guide

The Lottery Tradition and Customs

By Shirley Jackson

Tradition and Customs

"The Lottery"

Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. (76)

This passage implies that the villagers derive a certain amount of enjoyment out of the stoning. Why else would it be a fundamental aspect of the ritual?

There was the proper swearing-in of Mr. Summers by the postmaster, as the official of the lottery; at one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory. tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this part of the ritual had been allowed to lapse. (7)

All this hullabaloo lends the lottery a distinctly official quality. We learn later that beneath this veneer of civility is simply community-sanctioned violence.

The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. (5)

The villagers are extremely resistant to change, although as seen in other passages, the lottery is not without its detractors.

Chips of wood, Mr. Summers had argued. had been all very well when the village was tiny, but now that the population was more than three hundred and likely to keep on growing, it was necessary to use something that would fit more easily into the black box. (6)

Mr. Summers takes his job very seriously and does not mind amending old customs as he sees fit.

The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock. (1)

The lottery follows a tried-and-true process, the beginning of which we see here.

There had been, also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use in addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this also had changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official to speak to each person approaching. (7)

The lottery has evolved over time, yet there are fundamental elements of it that the villagers would never consider changing.