In “The Lottery”, the people of a Puritan town get the chance to vote on who among them will die to maintain peace and good tidings. They have had the tradition for decades according to the resident sage and breaking it would lead to much suffering. The author uses several literary devices to drive three key themes. All of the tools focus on the exposition of tradition, mob psychology, and the need to fight only when one is personally cornered. The author makes her case slowly and deliberately, thereby leaving lasting images in the readers’ mind.
The use of diction in the text is very carefully selected as one can see from this evaluation. All of the words used are supposed to reflect the era and situation. For example, the author uses “noon dinner” to denote the midday meal. The modern parlance for that would be lunch; in fact, lunch was the right terminology as the piece was written in 1948. Authors use diction to provide clues to the story including providing the right chronological context in which to view the story (Peach and Burton 51). The author’s use of diction is word-perfect and situates the reader in the right frame of mind.
Another device used in literature is suspense. Suspense allows the author to retain the audience’s attention until the end of the tale (Peach and Burton 62). It keeps the audience wondering what will happen thus driving them to read more and more. At the beginning of the tale, the audience gets a hint of a lottery. However, no one knows what the lottery involves. The audience then wonders what prize the winner will get once he or she beats the rest of the villagers. It is a distinct shock to everyone when the prize turns out to be death by stoning.
In addition, the author uses descriptive writing to set the stage, and she does so rather excellently. A description of the circumstances provides context. In this case, the author begins by framing the day. The audience can picture the green grass and blossoming flowers. One can imagine the young boys selecting the stones to use as they make sure they get the roundest and smoothest ones. The audience even gets a sense of the crowd’s mood as the author describes how the men, women, and children act before the lottery. The descriptions help one to picture the town, its people and the event.
Moreover, the author is quite astute at using chronological devices to provide background for the lottery. For instance, the Jackson (1) explains that the tradition has been carried on for decades as evidenced by the memory of the oldest person around. That tells the audience that the main driving force, in this case, is the tradition. The author even explains the use of paper ballots: wood ballots had become too cumbersome as the population grew. The background firms up the context in which the reader can place the events that take place in the town.
The most significant theme, in this case, is tradition. It is apparent that no one knows how the lottery started. Even the oldest man in the village has no idea how the practice began. He knows that if the town stops, then there will be a disaster. He is forceful in his conviction, and that makes the people convinced too. The townspeople do not even know why they cannot get a new box; they are just afraid to change things because that is what they have always done. The lottery is an old but comforting tradition, and they believe they have to maintain it.
In this case, the author is trying to make the point that human beings are slaves to tradition. They might be engaging in something harmful, but they will continue to do it even though it no longer serves any purpose. The paper argues that human beings will also have questions regarding their practices, but they maintain them due to fear. One can rightly say that no one in that town wanted to be killed through stoning. However, the strength of tradition makes the situation utterly unchangeable as even victims will often defend the practice.
Numbing of the Senses
It is also quite interesting that the townspeople appear to be completely desensitized to the violence of the situation. The people, including children, know what is going to happen. They understand that someone will lose his or her life. However, they do not think of it as a big deal. The boys choose rocks and stones as if they will use them for sport. The men and women mill around and gossip like they would on any other significant occasion. To these people, the violence they are about to mete out or receive is a regular fact of life.
The desensitization of people to violence is apt for the period in which the piece was written as well as the one in which it was set. In 1948, the nation was regaining its shape after the Second World War. Racism was making a big comeback as the unity engendered by the war faded. Many veterans who had fought side by side with black people came back and adopted the violent and despicable racism in the South (Shi and Tindall 48). Racial violence had become so regular that war and better information could not change the situation.
“The Lottery” remains an incredibly poignant book for anyone with the sense to understand exactly what it means. The country has so many traditions which are harmful but which have to be maintained for the sake of it. The people realize that there are fundamental problems with the Constitution, electoral system, governance model, and more but many are afraid of even broaching the subject. Human beings will continue to brew in traditions which cause harm but which have no real efficacy in life. The piece essentially calls on human beings to look at their customs and interrogate them with logic and reason.
The author, in this case, makes her points using several devices. She uses diction to create an authentic feel of the period in which she set the story. She understands words have power and so uses them carefully. Description, suspense, and the manipulation of the chronological order are also devices which the author deploys to significant effect. The main themes are tradition and the numbing of a community to violence. It is a poignant reminder of the frailties of human society. Indeed, the country should internalize the lessons taught in the piece by really interrogating its traditions and accepted ways of life.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. 1948.
Peach, Linden, and Angela Burton. English as a Creative Art: Literacy Concepts Linked to Creative Writing. David Fulton Publishers, 2018.
Shi, David E., and George Brown Tindall. America: A narrative history. WW Norton & Company, 2016.