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theme in the lottery

The Lottery Themes

The Juxtaposition of Peace and Violence

“The Lottery” begins with a description of a particular day, the 27th of June, which is marked by beautiful details and a warm tone that strongly contrast with the violent and dark ending of the story. The narrator describes flowers blossoming and children playing, but the details also include foreshadowing of the story’s resolution, as the children are collecting stones and three boys guard their pile against the “raids of the other boys.” These details…

Human Nature

Jackson examines the basics of human nature in “The Lottery,” asking whether or not all humans are capable of violence and cruelty, and exploring how those natural inclinations can be masked, directed, or emphasized by the structure of society. Philosophers throughout the ages have similarly questioned the basic structure of human character: are humans fundamentally good or evil? Without rules and laws, how would we behave towards one another? Are we similar to animals in…

Family Structure and Gender Roles

The ritual of the lottery itself is organized around the family unit, as, in the first round, one member of a family selects a folded square of paper. The members of the family with the marked slip of paper must then each select another piece of paper to see the individual singled out within that family. This process reinforces the importance of the family structure within the town, and at the same time creates a…

The Power of Tradition

The villagers in the story perform the lottery every year primarily because they always have—it’s just the way things are done. The discussion of this traditional practice, and the suggestion in the story that other villages are breaking from it by disbanding the lottery, demonstrates the persuasive power of ritual and tradition for humans. The lottery, in itself, is clearly pointless: an individual is killed after being randomly selected. Even the original ritual has been…

Dystopian Society and Conformity

Jackson’s “The Lottery” was published in the years following World War II, when the world was presented with the full truth about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. In creating the dystopian society of her story, Jackson was clearly responding to the fact that “dystopia” is not only something of the imagination—it can exist in the real world as well. Jackson thus meditates on human cruelty—especially when it is institutionalized, as in a dystopian society—and the…

Need help on themes in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery? Check out our thorough thematic analysis. From the creators of SparkNotes.