Rites and Rituals – Why Black Boxes Matter


An uncomfortable parallel between the fictional town in the short work The Lottery and The United States of America was the importance of rituals in each sphere. The United States proudly has many traditions ranging from religious rites to high school prom to parties during Game Day. While most seem innocuous, like the naivety of high school prom or the snacks at our Superbowl parties, others can be more serious and sinister – used to subconsciously instill certain values into certain communities.

Think of the American Pledge. While this blog is far from accusing the American Pledge to be a sinister scheme, the idea of the pledge is an interesting exploration into rituals. Nearly every public school student makes this pledge every morning. Typically, an administrator will sound over the speaker system that it’s time for the Pledge of Allegiance. All students then rise from their seats, turn towards the flag, and then begin making proclamations that are significantly more serious than the routine nature would have the pledge appear. Students as young as seven years old pledge their lives to the Flag of the United States, to the indivisible nature of the republic, and to God.

Why do we consider it necessary for all of our school children to pledge allegiance to the flag? Never in my fifteen years of public education was the reason for the pledge explained – instead we were simply expected to accept the pledge as a ritual. And aside from a few classmates who rebelled during occasional class periods, my entire school class obliged. Despite this lack of explanation, we continue performing this ritual and expecting our children to perform this ritual in the name of tradition.

Perhaps if we explored this tradition more succinctly, we would find definite reason or research as to why we perform this ritual everyday. Yet, as we currently stand, we perform these and many other rituals for little expressed reason at all. As we read in The Lottery, blindly following tradition or rituals is dangerous and leads to a corruption of the masses. The impact of traditions on the support of archaic rituals can most be seen through Jackson’s description of the black box – home to the original ritual. Describing this box, Jackson writes, “The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been into use even before Old Man Warner, the older man in town, was born… Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything being done. The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained” (1).

As we can see from this quote, and the entire Lottery text, sometimes we blindly follow rituals for no reason other than tradition. In order to understand our actions, we must deconstruct the intention behind our cyclical motions. Only through then can we more deeply understand who we are and what we value.

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1 Response to Rites and Rituals – Why Black Boxes Matter

  1. chicanochomsky says:

    This topic is one that fascinates me given how politicized rituals, traditions and holidays appear to be getting in this country. For starters, we place emphasis on America being a country built by immigrants, therefore being a pluralist society. Thus, the American identity seems to be constantly evolving and amorphous, which would not typically lend itself it towards the development of traditions or rituals. As far as the holidays we do celebrate, many like Thanksgiving and Columbus Day seem tied to an America or conception of America that either no longer exists or is problematic. Rituals have become a point of contention within the country, and part of a larger “culture war” rather than a uniting force for the American people. This has not been completely without merit, and some progress is being made on this end in my view, such as the surge in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day so as to not celebrate the atrocities committed towards Native populations following the landing of Columbus. This tension can be viewed as a country attempting to reckon with its past and its evolving identity. Perhaps that tension was always there, but lacked platforms, instead of being something new that America only now noticed. Choosing whether or not to stand for the anthem, or whether to say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” have emerged as political stands I could not have fathomed as a 7 year old who mindlessly recited a pledge I knew very little about. Ultimately, the question is whether we choose to be Old Man Warner, or choose to question our country’s black boxes.

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