According to anthropologist, William A. Haviland, ” ritual is the means by which the social bonds of a group are reinforced and tensions relieved. ” Shirley Jacksons short story, “The Lottery,” vividly illustrates the ease with which the individual in society tolerates and even participates in acts that if undertaken singly would be considered reprehensible. The authors skillful use of setting, mood and foreshadowing, brings to life this story of an otherwise idyllic community who, to the last child, participate in an annual ritual of sacrifice.
The Lottery” begins in a setting that embodies light, warmth and community spirit. All the citizens are gathered in the village square, complete with children playing as the adults observe the daily, mundane conventions of small talk and the teens grouped by sex, nervously observe each other. When the purpose of the gathering is revealed, the setting heightens the contrast of such an unusual event occurring in a traditional small town. The mood of the story at first seems almost festive.
Then in small, but telling glimpses we are told that the men are smiling rather than laughing at the jokes, and the conversation among the bystanders turns to murmurs as the town official, Mr. Summers arrived in the square, carrying the “black box. ” Then the good-natured folk keep their distance and Mr. Summers must ask for help. There seemed to be a resigned air among the citizens. The narrator recounts a partial history of rituals involving the black box, complete with rumors of chants, recitals, stances, dim memories of the way the lottery used to be conducted.
The reminiscing serves as a reminder to the villagers of the way things are and the way they have always been. The sheer weight of generations of villagers following the lottery tradition is felt. The mood of the people shifts from amicability, to false bravado, to relief and finally nervous release as they fulfill the obligation of stoning the victim. Even little Davy Hutchinson is handed a pebble to wield against his mother.