Once In A Blue Moon



Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” first published in 1948, has long been a staple in American literature. It is a chilling and thought-provoking narrative that explores the darker aspects of human nature, tradition, and conformity. Through the lens of a small, seemingly ordinary village, Jackson examines the unsettling capacity of society to blindly follow tradition and commit acts of cruelty. In this article, we will delve into the key themes and literary elements of “The Lottery” and discuss its enduring relevance.

The Plot

“The Lottery” takes place in a rural village on a sunny summer day. The story opens with the townspeople gathering in the town square for the annual lottery. The atmosphere is jovial, with children playing and adults chatting. However, as the ritual unfolds, the mood darkens. Each family draws a slip of paper from a black box, and the family that draws a paper with a black dot is chosen. In the end, Tessie Hutchinson is the “winner,” and she is stoned to death by the other villagers, including her own family.

Themes Explored

  1. Blind Obedience to Tradition: One of the central themes in “The Lottery” is the unquestioning obedience to tradition. The villagers follow the lottery ritual without understanding its origins or purpose, highlighting how easily people can be influenced to commit horrific acts in the name of tradition. This theme serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of conformity.
  2. The Banality of Evil: Jackson masterfully portrays the ordinary and mundane nature of the villagers. The fact that they can casually engage in such a brutal act reflects Hannah Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil,” where ordinary individuals can commit atrocities when they become part of a thoughtless, bureaucratic system.
  3. Scapegoating and Sacrifice: “The Lottery” also explores the concept of scapegoating. Tessie Hutchinson is chosen at random to be the scapegoat for the village’s troubles, and her death is seen as a necessary sacrifice to maintain the community’s stability. This theme raises questions about the role of sacrifice in society and the lengths to which people will go to preserve the status quo.

Literary Elements

  1. Symbolism: The black box, the stones, and the black dot on the paper all carry symbolic significance in the story. The black box represents tradition and the unthinking adherence to it, while the stones symbolize the villagers’ complicity in the violence. The black dot on the paper foreshadows Tessie’s fate and represents the randomness of her selection.
  2. Foreshadowing: Jackson skillfully uses foreshadowing to create a sense of unease throughout the narrative. Small details, such as the children gathering stones and the mention of other towns abandoning the lottery, hint at the impending violence.
  3. Irony: The story is rife with irony. The idyllic setting and the cheerful beginning of the lottery starkly contrast with its horrifying conclusion. The very idea of a lottery typically implies winning something positive, but in this case, it results in death.

Relevance Today

“The Lottery” remains a timeless and relevant work of literature because it forces readers to confront uncomfortable truths about human nature and society. It serves as a cautionary tale about blind conformity, the dangers of tradition, and the potential for cruelty within seemingly ordinary communities. In a world where groupthink, conformity, and the uncritical acceptance of tradition are still prevalent, Jackson’s story serves as a stark reminder of the importance of critical thinking and moral responsibility.


Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a haunting and enduring work of literature that continues to captivate readers and provoke thought. Through its exploration of themes like blind obedience to tradition, the banality of evil, and the consequences of scapegoating, Jackson’s story holds a mirror to society and challenges us to examine our own complicity in harmful practices. “The Lottery” serves as a timeless reminder of the power of literature to shed light on the darkest aspects of human behavior and the need for critical reflection in the face of tradition and conformity.

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