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The Depiction of Cultural Conformity and Moral Values in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” Essay

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Updated: Feb 8th, 2022

The appearance of moral values is not accidental in the history of human civilizations – this cultural element allows individuals to interact with each other on the same basis. Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” investigates the notion of moral values and how a community can let a violent side of human nature eclipse a more empathic one. Although written more than half a century ago, the short-story resonates with readers by discussing themes pertinent to a lot of cultures, even at the contemporary stage of development. “The Lottery” is a reading that provides insight on the most unpleasant aspects of culture, depicting corruption of values and violence of a community that blindly follows traditions established long ago.

The premise of the short story is that a rural American town has an annual lottery, the winner of which is lapidated to death by other participants. The town’s residents view this ritual as a necessary sacrifice that will bring them fruitful harvest (Jackson 15). Human sacrifice is a tradition that used to be practiced in a number of pagan cultures. Nonetheless, in Shirley Jackson’s work, the tradition is revived and employed as a symbolic representation to comment on such cultural and moral issues as reluctance to rethink, even potentially abandon old traditions and oppressive conformism. The town’s residents do not question the event – the complete compliance to thinking of a group is overwhelming (Jackson 16). Despite the looming threat of death that permeates the daily-life during a whole year, the protagonist’s, Tess Hutchinson’s, behavior is casual when she is selected as the winner. Her demeanor changes gradually, exposing an animalistic fear hidden by obedience to the community and its convention.

Shirley Jackson’s short story seems to be a critique of human nature and the state of the culture, in general. Ideas, customs, and social behavior adopted in the town, where “The Lottery” occurs, can be traced in contemporary societies, although the notions are hyperbolized in this piece of fiction. The short story may serve as a cautionary tale, communicating to the reader the hidden risks of cultural conformity. The Hunger Games trilogy is similar to the story under consideration, as both texts refer to similar themes and have to a degree similar plot elements. The concepts of tradition and sacrifice play a crucial role in the progression of both stories, and the effect produced by it is also comparable. “The Lottery” and The Hunger Games concur in the commentary on culture and social behavior that can be deducted from the texts. Both works seem to denounce indifference, violence, and complete submission to authorities. Culture is not depicted as the height of evolution in the texts in question, and values produced by it are shown as too volatile to be a reliable moral orienteer.

“The Lottery” is a thought-provoking and captivating text – the themes that it evokes are crucial to understanding in-depth less positive sides of contemporary cultures. Even though functioning properly in a society requires a degree of compliance, Shirley Jackson’s short story demonstrates the absurdity and danger of following traditions indiscriminately. The necessity to revise old values and customs is emphasized in the text. On the whole, “The Lottery” provides insight into the cruelty of human nature, which may seem like the original point for the event around which the short-story revolves.

Works Cited

Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery and Other Stories. Harper Perennial Classics, 2016.

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IvyPanda. "The Depiction of Cultural Conformity and Moral Values in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”." February 8, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-depiction-of-cultural-conformity-and-moral-values-in-shirley-jacksons-the-lottery/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "The Depiction of Cultural Conformity and Moral Values in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”." February 8, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-depiction-of-cultural-conformity-and-moral-values-in-shirley-jacksons-the-lottery/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'The Depiction of Cultural Conformity and Moral Values in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”'. 8 February.

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