I was watching an episode of The Simpsons on TV the other day, and there was a craze around town because the Springfield Lottery was up to 130 million dollars. Bookstores were selling out of Shirley Jacksons The Lottery. Homer quickly threw the book into the fireplace when he realized that the book could not tell him how to win the lottery, that it was a book about time old traditions, barbaric, but still practiced nonetheless.
If Homer had read the book, he would have discovered that Jackson was projecting a subtle message through the minor character of Old Man Warner that the human race can be quite feeble-minded when it comes to following others and outright ignorant when it comes to thinking for ones self. She uses Old Man Warner because he clings to your memory above all the other minor characters. He is seen as the antagonist, and therefore commands attention, even to his limited role. You then think about him more than any other minor character, and the more you think about him, the more the message comes through.
He symbolizes the sense of invincibility, distrust, fear, and eternal youth. Being in his seventy-seventh lottery, Old Man Warner is separated from the rest of the town. He has beaten the Lottery seventy-seven times, and therefore holds a certain sense of invincibility, and that leads to his devotion to it. Maybe thats how everyone feels. Since theyve survived the Lottery, they have a respect for it, and see nothing wrong with keeping it. In fact, they find the notion of not having the lottery preposterous, just because everyone has always thought that, and they just go along with what everyone thinks.
Maybe its not so much the aspect of survival that is addictive, but the sense of risk. Its like sky-diving, or Russian Roulette. People do it all the time, knowing the risk they run. Its the thrill of fear. The energetic adrenaline rush. Some people do drugs, others seek thrills, and a rare few hold a yearly lottery to decide who survives, and who doesnt. Its definitely a risk. And Old Man Warner has run this risk for seventy-six years. Its very similar to those guys you see that have jumped out of a plane over a hundred times. People love to take risks.
Jackson uses him to show the logical side to keeping the Lottery. She feels that it is a natural phenomenon, that people seek thrills, and that there is nothing wrong with that, and displays that through Warner. They do say, Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him that over in the North Village theyre talking of Giving up the Lottery. Pack of crazy fools, he said. Listening to the young folks, nothings good enough for them. Next thing you know, theyll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work anymore, live that way for a while.
Used to be a saying about Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon. Theres always been a lottery. This last passage exemplifies another belief of Old Man Warner. He completely doesnt trust young people. He believes that everything they do is radical and thoughtless, and they do things too easily. This is an example of your typical gender gap. But in this one, you dont have your children saying, You just dont understand. You have your elders being the ones not understood. In the passage above, Old Man Warner is trying to convey the message that life is fine how it is.
Why go and ruin a good thing? And people misconstrue that as an insult to their intelligence. All through his life, Old Man Warner has learned to accept life as it is, the status quo, and expect it to not change as long as hes around. As it is with our own generation, each new generation has bigger and better ideas for the world, and the elders feel threatened by this. Warner represents those who wish to keep the status quo, who feel that nothing is wrong with the present, so why try something new and possibly throw a wrench into the gears of pleasant life.
Maybe the Lottery gives Old Man Warner a sense of authority, or a feeling of respect, since he has been invincible seventy-six years in a row now. And the more and more that people want to disown the Lottery, the less power and less authority he has. Tied in with this is a certain sense of fear. Its a fear of change, but as long as nothing changes, there is nothing to fear. Thats what were told. This is a mirror to mankind. If nothing changes, then nothing can go wrong, and there is nothing to fear. We believe that as long as everything is OK now, if nothing changes, there is no problem.
But, sometimes thats just because thats what were told, and we follow everything were told. The only problem is, there is something wrong, and they are just so blind with ignorance and stupidity that they dont realize it. Maybe, Old Man Warner is just so old, that he doesnt mind his chances of drawing the spot. This could be some sort of elderly wisdom. He has lived a long, full life, and he may feel that everyone should feel the same way, and that the lottery keeps everyone living life to the fullest. Jackson wants the reader to do just that; live life to the fullest.
Without the Lottery, we take life for granted, and dont wake up each morning with a new sense of freshness, ready to live the day, as if it were your last, which it quite possibly could be. Jackson wants the message of eternal youth to come through here, and it does. People have been searching for the Fountain of Youth for hundreds of years, and Old Man Warner has found it. Jackson wants the reader to stop looking for the material Fountain of Youth, and find what it is inside of us that keeps us eternally young, and cling to it as a baby does to its mother.
Basically, Old Man Warner symbolizes stupidity. Thats harsh, but true. Or, maybe he is in some weird way one of the few smart people left. Either way, he doesnt want things to change, and he has good reasons for that, whether they be fear, or wisdom. But the beauty of the story is that Jackson places him subtly in The Lottery as a minor character, as to where he isnt given much thought, when he actually plays an important metaphorical role. And the best part of her writing of this character is that there is no definite direction Old Man Warner is going, and that leaves a lot to interpretation.
So she doesnt want to tell us how to read this character. She wants our minds to be stimulated by the enigma of Old Man Warner, and for each individual reader to take away something different from the reading. Jackson just wants everyone to put their mind to some good, and challenge the direction of the rest of the world, or follow it if that is what your brain says. Whatever you do, just be able to think about something and reason it out without any outside interference. An example is how much Ive written and thought about a crochety old man, with a tiny part in a twisted story.
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