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Mob Mentality in ‘the Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 5th, 2022

Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery is a short fiction story. It is about a lottery draw held in the summer season annually in an unknown American Village. The main purpose of the Lottery draw is to offer sacrifice to the rain god. This is done to ensure that the rain god grants them enough rain in the planting period. This would ensure that they have an adequate harvest in the next season. The story is based on misguided believes that by sacrificing one of their own villager by mob stoning, it could appease their rain god and hence ensure there is enough rainfall for their crops. This same aspect can be compared to Hitler way of ruling where the Germans were misguided on believe that by mob lynched the Jews good fortune would befall them.

The plot of the Lottery begins on the fateful day of June 27th where the young village boys are actively collecting stones and pilling them “Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix-The villagers pronounced his name “Dellacroy” – eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the rids of the other boys” (Jackson 256). The irony is that the reader is not given a hint of the main purpose of the stones as it seems like a child’s play. This is because the boys are collecting stones in a happy mood. It is depicted by the sounds they make while picking up the stones. The girls seem to be happy and they are standing on the side talking in low voice tone.

The early morning mood of the village is calm as the villagers busy themselves with their daily activities. To the villagers the lottery seems like a common routine, it does not call for any excitements and it seems like a routine often practiced. The whole ritual of lottery drawing does not call any excitement as it takes very few hours. This is evident where the author states: “The whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner” (Jackson 255). The children are the first to gather at the town square. They are later followed by the parents and the grown up arrive reluctantly without any hurry at the village square.

The event begins at the town square where the lottery draw is held yearly. All the villagers from the young to the old are gathered there ready to take part in the activity. The civic leader Mr. Summer is late and he arrives later carrying an old wooden box. His arrival is closely followed by the post master who comes carrying an old stool. After some pleasantries the civic leader announces the start of the lottery draw. All the villagers start to pick the slips beginning with the elder man in their respective family. Mrs. Tess Hutchinson is late to arrive in the square. She swiftly pushes her way through the crowd to where her family is located.

After a while the slips placed in the black box are all picked. The dreaded black slip is picked by the Tessie Hutchinson. She becomes hysterical and starts protesting on the method of drawing the slip. He stresses that her husband was not given a chance to pick the slips properly when she says “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair” (Jackson 259). No one is interested to listen to her instead they concentrate to know who has picked the marked slip with the black mark.

It is later found out that Tess Hutchinson had picked the black slip. No one comes to her aid even after trying to complain of the method of drawing. We see her husband being at the front line to sacrifice her to the crowd:

“Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summer had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal company office. Bill Hutchinson held it up and there was a stir in the crowd.” (Jackson 231-232).

The morning that the author had described as “clear and sunny, with fresh warmth of a full summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass richly green” (Jackson, 225) Turned out to be a homicidal day when Tess Hutchinson is stoned to death. Nothing can stop the villagers including her close friends and relatives from stoning her. They are very quick to finish up her without a second thought in order to go back to with their daily routine. It is clear from the story that the villagers had forgotten about the lottery ritual. One thing that had not left their mind was the use of stones. This barbaric act was done without the villagers inquiring the legality of the matter. They blindly followed an outdated tradition ritual without questioning the outcome.

The story is set in a small but steadily growing village. The setting is in a serene and peaceful village where violent and crime is unheard of. The lottery draw is also held in a warm day where children, the youth and the old are enjoying the summer weather. Despite the civilization of the neighboring villages the people of this village are adamant and could not change. (Kirszner and Mandell 56). They have failed to embrace the civilization and tend to follow the footsteps of their fore fathers. This is evident when the author states: “Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered the use of stones.” (Jackson 232). This is a clear indication that they had forgotten how the ritual was conducted but they still wanted to tie themselves to an out dated habit.

The mob mentality practiced in the lottery story can be connected with the barbaric act that was practiced by the Germanys towards the Jews. The Anti-Semitism which is referred to as the hatred of the Jews was practiced in German in the 19th century. The Jews were despised due to their culture, ethnic and religious believes. Early in the 19th century, the Jews were less regarded by the whole of European countries. They were overlooked as inferior and this brought the aspect of excommunicating them from the other countries.

Their faith and beliefs were not acceptable by the other Europeans countries. This led to their excommunicated and later evicted from the European countries. England was the first country to evict them followed by Spain, Portugal, and later in Nazi Germany (Hillgruber 15). Since time in memorial the Jews were forced to live with frequent attacks from other groups of people. The attacks rendered many suffering to the degree of being lynched by a mob. The Jews suffered without questioning the faith they believed in.

Despite the harassment and torture they passed through they did not give in but continue to practice their culture and religion. The strong beliefs that the Jews held on their culture and religion can be compared to the strong belief that the villagers in The Lottery had on the lottery draw ritual. No matter how much they suffered they could not discard the outdated practiced. They believed that it was their way of life and nothing and no pain could separate them with their beliefs.

The worst of mob mentality against the Jews happened in Germany during the Adolf Hitler Holocaust era (Downing 33). After the Second World War in 1945, German had lost in the battle and the outcome infuriated Hitler that he had to avenge the loss. He ordered the mass massacre of the Jews who where located in Germany and other European countries. The ultimate death number exceeded six million where one third of them were children. This cruel act was not based on the Second World War but the cruelty and hatred that Hitler had for the Jews. According to Hitler the Jews were the main cause of the misfortunes that the Germany had suffered.

Hitler’s way of ruling can be compared to the way the villagers in the story The Lottery were governed. In The Lottery the villagers were made to believe that they had to sacrifice one of their own in order to appease the rain god and hence ensure they had a bumper harvest. This scenario can be compared to the way Hitler had brainwashed the Germans. They were made to believe that the Jews were the solely responsible for the misfortunes that had occurred to them. They blindly followed without questioning the legality of the issue. Instead, they went ahead and performed the mob lynching just as they were told to do to keep up with the ritual.

Hitler had many concepts and among them also was the race cleansing. He believed that by offering a cleansing sacrifice he would cleanse his race. This was the murder of children who were disabled and with disabilities in their growth. The act was cruel. The people were forced to kill while the where the innocent children suffered in the hands of a ritual. Hitler had forced the Germans to practice an outdated ritual without their contest. Free will was unheard of during his reign and this was the same aspects that had happened in The Lottery. In the village there were those who opposed the act of sacrificing their village mate and felt it was wise to discard the habit. The majority who were the old men in the village could not part with the ritual. Their demands fell on deaf ears as the ritual was to be carried on for as long as they lived:

“They do say,” Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, “that over the north village they’re talking of giving up lottery. Old Man Warner snorted” Pack of crazy fools,’ he said, “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they, they will be wanting to go back and live in the cave, nobody work anymore, live that way for a while. Used to be saying about lottery ‘lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery.”(Jackson 229).

The same scenario is seen with the Germans. For Hitler to gain power and support to dominate he had to gain the confident of the majority. He made a plan where he could use the more versatile group that was less regarded by many. His target to the Jews was a scapegoat where by invoking hatred towards the Jews who more venerable he would unite the Germans and the other European nations hence, get the support of the mass for his movement to progress. The movement core aim was to ensure that he dominated over all the nations in Europe. This was the main reason that Hitler came up with the idea of race cleansing where he would ensure that he wiped all the Jews in German and other neighboring countries.

The German soldiers and residents were made to believe that racial cleansing of the Jews was a ritual that they were bound to perform to be cleansed of bad omens. They agreed and without questioning went ahead to massacre the Jews. Hitler ensured that he had brainwashed the Germans to follow blindly to his command (Overy 102). Despite the fact that some Germans were against the ritual, their outcry would not stop Hitler from undertaking his missions on the Jews. The power he held over the Germans was unquestionable. This administrative power can be compared to the authority that the old men in the Lottery held to the villagers. Hitler who is the protagonist in the German realm, acted on the same ground as Old Man Warner, Mr. Graves, Mr. Summer and the villagers who stoned Mrs. Tess Hutchinson.

The massacre of the Jews and the publishing of the short story The Lottery happened just after the Second World War. The themes of the story and the happening in German were more or less related. The story and the incidents depict the evil that people harbor within themselves. These evils are hidden in the inside while the on outside they are as good, decent people just like Hitler. In The Lottery, the villagers were portrayed as good people who lived peaceful and violence was unheard of in their small village. It is after the lottery draw that the true identity of the villagers is revealed. They act without remorse and second thought. Everyone is eager to finish up the task of stoning Mrs. Tess Hutchinson to death. The Germans on the other hand did not question the massacre of the Jews. They acted without any regrets not considering that the Jews were people with rights to life.

Works Cited

Downing, David. The Nazi Death Camps. New York: World Almanac Library of the Holocaust, 2005. Print.

Hillgruber, Andreas. England’s Place in Hitler’s Plans for World Dominion. Journal of Contemporary History. 9 (1974): 14–15.

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. X.J. Ed. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Longman, 2002. 254-261.

Kirszner,Laurie, and Stephen R. Mandell. Compact Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, 7th Ed. New York: Wadsworth Publishing, 2009. Print.

Overy, Richard. “Misjudging Hitler.” The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered. Ed.Gordon Martel. London, United Kingdom: Routledge, 1999. 101-102.

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