America’s “Lottery” Traditions

In The Lottery, a short story by Shirley Jackson, we are introduced to a quaint town living in what sounds like good old rural America and we get to see the town on a day of grand tradition: the Lottery. This Lottery was not like the Powerball however, but was an ingrained tradition in this society that was a ritualistic selection and then killing of a random member of the community. The bluntness of the short story was, in my opinion, a mechanism for decrying unquestioned societal traditions, whether it involves randomly bludgeoning citizens or other horrible acts that citizens do unquestioningly. That message of this short story is one that we as Americans need to take to heart and use to internally review the current some traditions that we have endured unquestioningly for decades at a time.


The first tradition I’d like to tackle is the process of elections in a presidential election cycle. If you have turned on your T.V., watched a YouTube video or glanced at a newspaper within the last year, the chances of you seeing something based around the 2016 elections are pretty damn high. What is worse is that over the course of that year long (and still incomplete) campaigning is that metaphorically (and physically if Trump had his way) other politicians, the media, and the public all hurl stones at the candidates they dislike until that candidate dies out. nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersThis time-honored tradition of “denigrate until dead” is more modern than other traditions, but to me is the most severe in how it has come to a head in the 2016 election cycle. America has allowed itself to see elections as a grand show of mudslinging and yelling (two things we get excited to see) with little substance and the not advocating the change of this process is more likely to kill us than being a member of a town practicing the “Lottery”.


Keeping with political traditions, the second American tradition I think needs re-exploring is the two-party system. When George Washington himself warns of the dangers of having only two parties in power, one would think Americans would take that to heart and attempt to have a more pluralistic political society, but since the days of the Federalists and anti-Federalists we have really seen only two major political parties holding power at any time.

federalists-authorsThe tradition of telling voters to select either choice A or choice B for their elected official distorts the true nature of American political beliefs and making citizens choose between their lesser of two evils rather than a candidate that they fully support. Unlike the last tradition I tackled that rose out of consumers wants, this tradition stems from parties that have existed longer than their oldest members, really knocking home how we as Americans have let this slip by us for so long.
There are more American “traditions” that I have not included, but these two I have highlighted truly draw a parallel with The Lottery and its warning of following old traditions without question. While we do not drag citizens into the streets and stone them to death, metaphorically doing so to candidates or handicapping voters by offering them a small choice of candidates are things we as Americans have grown unquestioningly accompanied to, and I believe it is time we re examine our ways before we end up in a society like The Lottery.

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4 Responses to America’s “Lottery” Traditions

  1. ethanmolinar says:

    My interpretation of the Lottery short story was that it was about traditions with no utility. These traditions with no utility when mindlessly carried out can actually do harm to a community. I enjoyed your interpretation about what traditions we have in America that have outgrown their utility. Especially important to me was the comparison between stones and the insults that are often hurled at candidates. One other similarity that is noteworthy to me is that it is mainly the losing candidates who complain about the system and not the winning candidates. This was similar to how Tessie Hutchinson only complained when the lottery system was turned against her.

  2. tonybetz says:

    Ian, I really enjoyed reading your article, and I cannot believe that the country that always boasts about freedom and democracy has created the two party system which can lead to so many government shut downs over agreements. If we had more than two major parties then I believe that we would become a better informed people, with more than just the two sides of the aisle. You’d think that our countrymen would have taken George Washington’s advice more seriously in this matter.

  3. J.M.Delgado says:

    Ian, I enjoyed your different explanations on how the lottery may be implemented in today’s society. Your brief explanation on how the 2 party system, limits the voice of the people. I found this article a couple weeks ago that supports your idea.

    The points made in the article, I believe are very relevant in Arizona. For example, how is it that one of the most diverse states in the U.S has been so stagnant for so long? Voting suppression? Well look at the events that part on March 22, and decide for yourself.

  4. jfavila says:

    I agree with your explanation on how the lottery short story applies to the political system today. We’ve followed it without questions for a long time and it feels there is little progress made because of how many things they disagree on and how the two are too preoccupied trying to make their party look like the best. I believe our government would be better off if we didn’t have only two dominating political parties

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