Sacrifice In Jackson’s “The Lottery” Essay Samples
The praiseworthy act of sacrifice illuminates what an individual as well as culture at large values in the face of difficult and often debilitating circumstances. Furthermore, it reveals how past experiences however good or painful dictate the values and actions of characters that may contradict venerable characteristics of the human condition. The theme of sacrifice threads together the powerful narrative proffered in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." This short story focuses on a town that holds a lottery each year to determine which denizen would be sacrificed in order to ensure that the community would subsist and provide a bountiful crop that year. It also demonstrates how a civilized society can remained steadfastly tethered to gruesome and archaic rituals despite the fact that the community is in no way is affected by the ritual, thereby highlighting important truisms about human nature. In the similar fashion to how other authors such as Henri Maupassant reveal a litany of ideas about relationships and the sacrifice that marriage entails, Jackson explores the laudable act of sacrifice as a means to critique the underbelly of human behavior. Although the methodologies deployed by Jackson starkly contrasts those of her predecessors, short stories such as “The Lottery” nonetheless articulate strong moral messages that resonate with both contemporary and modern audiences.
Jackson’s “The Lottery” examines relationships and sacrifice within the dynamics of a quaint village community in order to articulate an important moral message. Indeed, the ritual of human sacrifice traverses various geographical and temporal contexts. In ancient societies, human sacrifice was rendered necessary in order to promote bountiful harvests, as the ancients believed that taking a human life makes the germination of another life. As a result of such logic, taking a human life in ritualistic fashion appeased the Gods, and in return, the ancient society would bless the people with a fruitful harvest. Crops, however, were not the sole reason for sanctioning human sacrifice. Some ancient cultures believed that human sacrifice thwarted flooding. Others believed it promoted fecundity in mothers. The most abominable reason of all, however, was that some cultures sanctioned the ingestion of the human flesh after the sacrificial act. These justifications for engaging in human sacrifice have been rendered grotesque by both modern as well as contemporary standards (Knox).
Jackson further addresses the theme of sacrifice within the dynamics of the village community to underscore how everyday rituals involving human sacrifice reveal the underbelly of human nature. The setting of the story takes place in a seemingly nice and wholesome farming community, as the scenery of an idyllic, small country village with all of the fixings suggest. The village has a town square, school, post office, and bank, so the community dynamics suggest that this society was similar to a small, tight-knit community in which everyone knows each other and crime is a rare occurrence. The narrator states: “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green” (Jackson). Jackson thus limns a civilized community throughout the story with subtle hints that appearances do not necessarily reflect reality. The village is not too substantial in terms of size, and it is presented as a farming community firmly rooted in religious moral standards. The existence of symbolically civil institutions further underscores the image proffered by Jackson that this community is by all standards representative of a quaint, venerable, and civil community. The school emerges as a trope for progressive thought oriented towards the future and ensuring that community embers show a willingness to invest in the intelligence of the young children living in it. The post office symbolizes knowledge of word, as it facilitates the ability of the residents to appropriate thoughts and ideas, put them to paper, and share them with communities outside their own. The bank symbolizes currency as a prominent symbol of a modern society and thought towards funding future generations. Finally, the mention of a tractor and taxes by the author leads the reader to falsely assume that this village was indeed emblematic of a civil society. Jackson thus proffers a sanitized image of this community as a small yet a technologically-advanced, progressive town in which the atrocities associated with the past ceased to exist.
A civilized community has rules and customs that are the standard but will change as the world changes. Civilized communities make decisions to better the community as a whole with all the communities’ thoughts and concerns taken in to make the best decision for all. Jackson’s civilized community has farmers, bankers, grocers, teachers, and postmen, all the types of people that make up a mental picture of a civilized, modern, and knowledgeable community. Jackson paints the civilized community picture well before divulging the stark reality that the community is far less civilized than she leads readers to believe with the presentation of the "prize" of the annual lottery: premature death to a scapegoat, which would ensure that crops would be plentiful, a ritual sacrifice that, throughout time, had been deployed in advanced societies. A community with a grocery store that participates and perpetuates such a backwards and barbaric tradition suggests that money lies at the core of the impetus to perpetuate this ritual. The town undoubtedly survives off of the crops yielded each year. If the sacrifice stimulates the growth of the crops, then it also simultaneously engenders the town’s wealth. The perpetuation of the annual ritual thus functions merely as the murder of an innocent to fatten the pockets of those dependent on the crops for wealth. Jackson underscores how money and its associated ramifications illuminate the dark side of human nature. The violent and arbitrary murder of an innocent once a year becomes normative behavior despite the overt barbarity of the act. The townspeople are described as happy as "they stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed" (Jackson). The community members congregate in order to perform this unspeakable and savage murder, thinking very little about the ramifications of this heinous tradition. Such a blasé attitude towards misfortune as the men talk about "rain tractors and taxes" while the women gossip despite knowing that someone is about to be murdered for the purportedly utilitarian purpose of maintaining the town's livelihood and sustenance. “The Lottery” illuminates a vast array of social ills that persist in modern contexts vis-a-vis the perpetuation of an old ritual of human sacrifice to ensure that crops would grow abundantly every year.
Other short stories explore the theme of sacrifice in a variety of ways that add nuance to the threading trope. Maupassant's "The Necklace" explores the dynamics and complexities of a married couple and how sacrifice and greed play a formative role in shaping the contours of that relationship within a context defined by class conflict. The short story begins with a description of the protagonist who the narrator describes as both "pretty and charming." She and her husband work as clerks in the Ministry of Education, yet they continue to struggle financially despite their upper class aspirations. She had long dreamed of living a life defined by hedonistic pleasure, luxury, and leisure while living inside a large home with attentive and docile servants. Unfortunately, the material reality of her existence was far more modest, which cultivated a sense of shame towards her own social standing, which is evident in her refusal to keep visiting Madame Forestier, an old school companion who married rich and enjoyed a life of luxury. When the Loisels receive an invitation to a ball, Madame Loisel turns quite irascible because she does not have the appropriate clothing to wear to such a glamorous event. To appease his wife, Monsieur Loisel tells her that he would buy a new dress for her to wear to the ball. As the ball draws near, Madame Loisel discusses her anxiety and fears because she does not have the appropriate jewelry and/or accessories. Her husband nonchalantly suggests to his wife that she should borrow some of Madame Forestier's jewelry, which prompts her to visit her old friend. Madame Loisel chooses a diamond necklace to borrow for the gala.
At the ball, Madame Loisel has a great time because the men give her a lot of attention. She dances all night until four o'clock in the morning. Upon returning home in a decrepit cab, Madame Loisel realizes that she lost the diamond necklace, which forces her and her husband to spend hours retracing their steps in order to find it. Rather than admit to Madame Forestier that she lost her friend’s necklace, the Loisels choose to go into debt and replace the necklace. After years of performing arduous labor in order to repay her debt for the necklace, Madame Loisel laments that the stress incurred as a result of the lost diamond necklace has significantly aged her. It required her and her husband to toil for ten years in poverty before the couple finally is able to fully pay off their debt. Regardless of their struggles, Madame Loisel reminisces fondly about her time at the ball in which she felt elegant and high class. One day, Madame Loisel sees Madame Forestier, who hardly recognizes her old friend due to the drastic changes in her countenance. While Madame Forestier still looked ravishing, beautiful, and young, she admits to Madame Loisel that the necklace that had been replaced without her knowledge had actually been fabricated with imitation diamonds, rendering it inexpensive and devoid of any monetary value.
Similar to "The Necklace,' “The Lottery” ends in ironic fashion, which is hinted at throughout the narrative vis-à-vis both passing and nondescript words. The omniscient narrator observes: “They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed” (Jackson). The townspeople conveyed conflicting emotions about the lottery ritual that took place each year, yet they physically distanced themselves from the black pile, which attests to their underlying fear of ritual itself. No character in the story ever verbalizes what the outcome of the lottery would be until Old Man Warner declares that the “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (Jackson). Indeed, Jackson’s prose and writing style lacks emotive qualities in order to eschew pedantry in underscoring the barbarity in the act of the lottery itself. The ending is ironic because the term "lottery" in modern contexts and sensibilities indicates that the winner of the contest would receive a prize. In this lottery, however, neither the winners nor the losers actually win. The chosen individual actually would lose his or her life due to an outdated and antiquated ritual at the hands of friends and their own family. Jackson’s story will make any reader question how civil their society really is and what standards function as a barometer of civility within a society (Werlock).
Both "The Necklace" and "The Lottery" prompt readers to cogitate about how sacrifice directly relates to greed. The dynamics of various relationships force people to act in a particular way without cogently reflecting on what their actions insinuate about themselves as well as the artificial nature of rituals, obligations, and social expectations. “The Necklace” exhibits how greed and envy coupled together can create certain situations where personal sacrifice can be the only recourse. Madame Loisel learns this lesson by seeing her husband sacrifice for her and through her own sacrifices just to be accepted in an elite society that valued appearances over reality. Ironically, the necklace itself functions as a mechanism for her happiness has well as downfall. This short story adequately represents human relationships and societal machinations in a world torn asunder by class conflict. Jackson’s "The Lottery" lacks emotion in the writing style, which underscores how barbaric and savage the anticipated act is, which becomes normative behavior in the society portrayed. The cruelty and violence exacted by human beings on each another illuminates the vagaries and crevices of human nature. Although tradition and customs have sway and currency over people in this short story, Jackson questions conforming to traditions in a similar manner to Maupassant's surprising and ironic ending aims to demonstrate how conforming to class expectations elucidates the ugliness of human nature.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 9th ed. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. 141-5. Print.
Knox, Rose. “Savagery in a Modern Setting: Jackson’s Shocking Revelation of a Highly Evolved Society.” English lecture. North Florida Community College. 4 Mar 2015. Lecture.
Maupassant, Guy de. “The Necklace.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed.
Edgar V. Roberts and Robert Zweig. 10th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2012. 200-5.
Werlock, Abby H. P. "Jackson, Shirley." The Facts On File Companion to the American Short Story, Second Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2009.Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 1 Oct. 2014