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Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish chemist, writer, and Holocaust survivor, once said that “Monsters exist, but they are far too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” When people think of evil people or monsters, we typically think of the main figure of a movement or group. The most evil person people think of is Hitler or Stalin. It is easy to blame the main figure solely, but by doing this we fail to remember the ordinary people who are involved in letting horrendous acts occur. These people did not work alone. It is everyday people who have the power to control what will happen.
It is through civilian opinions and actions that evil acts can occur. Hitler had millions of followers and supporters that did not question what he was doing to Jews. They and many other countries failed to realize by following blindly without questioning, they were condemning a group of people to death. Monsters do not have to be a completely evil being. Many people do not realize that all monsters are just ordinary people.
In her short story, “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson is able to express the chilling horror of blind obedience. Jackson is able to show that any ordinary person is capable of horrific acts by conforming mindlessly to a person’s surroundings. Although people are have the ability to cause change and do good, Shirley Jackson is able to convey in her story “The Lottery” that the normalization of events, fear and tradition, and selfishness are the roots of blind obedience and cause everyday people to become monsters.
To begin, Shirley Jackson shows that heinous deeds can become normal over time. The most sinister aspect of “The Lottery” is the normalization of the killing of a neighbor. Every single person in the town is not bothered by the lottery. The townspeople schedule the lottery to happen around 10, so that it will be over in time for them to have lunch. The people of the town have no issue with continuing their day after killing someone that was apart of their community. It is through normalization that bad things can occur.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, points out that the killing of Jews was not the first step in the Holocaust. In 1930s Germany there was a lot anti-Jew propaganda. Jews were often an object people could blame for their problems. They complained that Jews were taking jobs away from Germans; which is much like some Americans views on immigrants. Through the constant blame of Jews and propaganda against them in the media, the Nazis were able to normalize the hatred of Jews. By blindly listening to the media and bias, the people in 1930s Germany became just as bad as Nazis. The townspeople in “The Lottery” do the exact same thing.
The children are playing with the rocks that will kill a person that they know and interact with constantly; they fill their pockets full of stones. Children should be questioning whether it is right to be killing a person, but they conform to what others do around them. No one questions the lottery. The townspeople gossip and joke before the lottery begins. They just think of the lottery as a mundane activity that they are forced to do. The lottery is just another part of their day they have to get thorough. If someone were to question the lottery, than people wouldn’t have to die. In addition, once Tessie is chosen to be stoned and begins to panic, the townspeople tell her to “be a good sport”.
These people don’t even think about her or her situation. They blindly stone this lady without thinking of her family or why they are really doing it. The act of killing someone has become so normal to this town that they just want it to be over with quickly. Jackson warns that if heinous acts are normalized then the true horrors of a situation are hidden, making ordinary people monsters by blind obedience.
Furthermore, the blind obedience found in “The Lottery” is even more intensified by fear and tradition. Fear is one of the best motivators; anyone can control another person through fear. Fear and tradition in “The Lottery” go hand in hand. There is a fear that if the sacrifice from the lottery is stopped, than the crops won’t flourish; the lottery has worked for the townspeople for centuries, so they don’t consider stopping the tradition. They repeatedly conform to the same pattern every year of bringing out the old box and killing someone.
This is all they have ever know; lotteries are conducted in villages in all of the surrounding areas around the townspeople. The oldest man in town, Old Man Warner, has been apart of over 70 lotteries. No one in town has ever not been apart of the lottery. It has always happened and the crops always grow. The townspeople are like drones that carry out orders without thinking or realizing how pointless the lottery really is. They are afraid to speak up about the lottery because of what might happen to them. It is just a small town of just 300 people; no one talks about the lottery because they are afraid of judgment by the town, and they are afraid to alter the lottery for what might happen to their crops.
The black box used for the lottery is old and shabby. There is always talk about making a new box, but no one wants to mess with the tradition that is represented by the black box. Jackson is able to demonstrate how strong of a hold tradition and fear have on people. Tradition makes it easy to blindly follow a routine, and fear is used a deterrent to stop an sort of questioning toward the lottery.
In addition, selfishness is a further exemplifies blind obedience. We as people tend to not question anything until we personally are involved. The townspeople do not care about the families of the people who are sacrificed at the lottery; they only care about themselves. Even Tessie, the woman who gets stoned, jokes around during the lottery until she is chosen to be killed. We only care about ourselves and our safety. Tessie even tries to bring some of her married children in the lottery draw for her family to increase her odds of living. She would rather one of her own child die in her place than her. Nobody questions anything until they are apart of it.
In present day, many people do not sympathize with the suffering and discrimination of minority groups because it does not affect them personally. They cannot see the pain of others because it does not affect them. Once the Hutchinson’s have been chosen for the lottery, some of Nancy Hutchinson’s school friends hope that it isn’t her. Nancy’s friends do not care about Nancy’s family. They only think about themselves and what they would do without Nancy. They don’t think of Nancy’s suffering or how the lottery will affect her and her family.
Thomas Du Bose believes that Jackson is suggesting “that people are not concerned about injustice and kindness unless these problems touch them personally.” The townspeople are able to blindly obedient because the lottery doesn’t concern them or their families. Once they open their piece of paper and don’t see a black dot, they are relaxed; it’s not them. They just want the stoning to end quickly so they can go to lunch. Selfishness and not being able to put yourself in someone else’s place causes people to be apart to horrific deeds.
Any person can become a monster. It is not just figureheads who are evil, it is also ordinary people. Shirley Jackson is warning us that by being blindly obedient that we can create terror and suffering. Jackson is urging us to look for signs of normalization of awful things. She is telling us to question everything even if it is tradition, or is it scary to oppose. Jackson is telling us to look beyond ourselves and to not conform to awful practices. “The Lottery” is a call to action to be more aware of our surroundings and what we do. We need to be more self aware and see what we can do to help and change other people.
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