For an introduction to sheep mentality, and a look at what the Lottery by Shirley Jackson entails, watch this video, and read this short snippet.
The Lottery begins in an unknown southern region, where the kids are playing with one another and collecting rocks and putting them in a pile, sometimes diving into the pile and being reprimanded by their peers. After some exposition of tradition, a black box, and change.
As the time looms close, men, women and children begin swarming into the area, with Mr. Summers being the clear leader of the pack. Subsequently, almost all of the 300 people in the community gather in the grassy and picturesque area. Mr. Summers then summons someone to bring the black box, and it is placed on the table. The black box, new and pristine – a distinct contrast from the original – was placed down, and Mr. Summers had the papers that were done the day before – once again contrary to the original wood chips used for generations – put inside of the box, and he mixed them well while declaring the lottery was open. It was clearly shown in the story that the men were the heads and represented his entire family, and thus drew a paper for his family. Everyone seemed happy, but there was a silent undertone of fear, insinuating the proceeding events. Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson was very conversational and personable during the entire process, that is until her family had the charcoal marking on the paper. Then fear struck, and Mrs. Hutchinson insisted on voicing her thoughts about how the entire process was rigged, and unfair. Although Tessie repeatedly tried to get the process to restart and repeatedly made excuses, her husband, Bill, ignored her efforts and went through with the situation.
Then the whole family went to draw again, each one having a blank paper, and Tessie was to draw last, and she and everyone else knew that she had the charcoal-marked slip. Old Man Warner was completely fine with everything, including the fact that Tessie was about to die. As the villagers began to engage her, she pleaded that the lottery was not fair or right. As Old Man Warner told the villagers to move quicker, Tessie was hit in the face with a stone, and the villagers stoned her to death soon thereafter as she screamed.
The Lottery was written in 1948, but it is still unknown what situation the story was inspired by. The virtues exemplified by characters in the short story are practically ubiquitous, appearing in nearly every social evil that has been perpetrated. Tessie is an antagonist that slowly becomes a victim and a hypocrite. Old Man Warner is disillusioned and heartless. Mr. Summers is the primary malicious character within the story.
Upon reading the story, it may seem as if Mr. Summers is merely trying to optimise an already corrupt system, but he is not a conformist. This is one of the key elements within The Lottery: tradition. Old Man Warner and Mr. Summers are merely juxtapositions of exhibited behaviours. Mr. Summers has constantly revised and modernised different parts of the original lottery traditions, such as adding paper instead of woodchips and updating the old and dilapidated black box. This is one substructure of tradition, revision. Think of it as the whispering game. As the same message is relayed to each person, it is constantly changed and imprinted on, and by the end, may only reflect the thoughts and actions of one individual, as shown with Mr. Summers. This can bring in evils, prejudice, and hypocrisy. Old Man Warner is completely averse to any form of the proposed change that changes the lottery, and its constituents, as shown within when a woman mentions that those in the North have given up this ritual, to which Warner responds with a snarky statement. Warner continues to follow a bind and inhumane practice, despite witnessing the horrors of it.
Mrs. Hutchinson/Tessie is a complex protagonist. She begins as a lead conformist, happy attending the lottery, and being extremely amiable towards everyone. However, after she and her family are picked, her behaviour becomes more erratic, and she tries to use her relationship to get others to help her, which was to no effect. As she is being stoned, Tessie screams “this [is not] right”. This highlights the key point that is the heart of the problem with bad tradition: everyone is fine with something that negatively affects others until it is to their detriment. Tessie had likely been stoning others in past lotteries, but once the consequences befell her family, she was in denial and became defensive.
Segregation ended about a decade after Shirley Jackson wrote the short story, and that is why I think it projects the horrible ideologies of slavery, and then later, segregation. These exact behaviours have been perpetrated, and continue to be with regard to racial prejudice. People are killed, attacked, and hurt as a byproduct of the system, but when people fight back and injure others, their actions are demonised and hated, as shown with the Nat Turner-led revolt.