About this sample
About this sample
Words: 993 |
5 min read
Published: Dec 3, 2020
Words: 993|Pages: 2|5 min read
Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" delves into the disturbing depths of human nature, offering a chilling commentary on the propensity of societies to engage in senseless violence and persecution. To some extent, the idea of planned and deliberate retribution at the heart of "The Lottery" reflects the vengeful ideology that inspired the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts during the late 17th century. Jackson's narrative draws eerie parallels to this historical episode, shedding light on the irrational yet malicious evil lurking within societies. In this essay, we will explore how Jackson's work resonates with the Salem Witch Trials and, in doing so, expose the hidden evils of seemingly virtuous communities.
In her personal writings, Shirley Jackson revealed her fascination with tales of the macabre amid a seemingly mundane society. She once confessed to seeking out news articles depicting gruesome events like ax murders as a means of reviving her spirits amidst a sea of life-affirming stories about babies. This juxtaposition of the ordinary and the macabre reflects the underlying theme of "The Lottery." While the story's setting appears idyllic, a tradition unfolds that shakes the reader to the core.
Critics have lauded "The Lottery" for its startling freshness, but as Nebeker aptly observed, beneath this praise often lies a current of uneasiness. This uneasiness stems from the fact that the townspeople in Jackson's narrative engage in a malicious and violent event without any apparent reason, other than it being a tradition. This aspect intensifies the horror of the story, as it suggests that something inherently malevolent within human nature drives these actions.
In a society deeply rooted in Puritanical values, the notion of eradicating evil serves as a foundational principle. The Puritans believed that they could purify their society by living virtuous lives, free from sin.
However, Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" challenges this ideal, highlighting the hypocrisy of human nature. His tale of a Puritan minister's secret sin and the subsequent judgment exemplifies Hawthorne's point that evil is not exclusive to a few but resides within all individuals. This internal struggle between good and evil is akin to Dostoevsky's exploration of the human soul.
Unlike Hawthorne, Jackson does not focus on the religious or moralistic aspects of this internal struggle. Instead, she exposes the hideous irony of living in a seemingly virtuous society where beneath the facade of niceness and life-affirming principles, there exists a dark underbelly. The Puritans' futile attempt to rid themselves of this darkness is analogous to their obsession with projecting their own corruption onto others, accusing them, and executing them, all in the hope of burying their own sins and crimes with the convicted.
In "The Lottery," Jackson wastes no time in revealing the townspeople's brutal nature. She is less concerned with the psychology of individuals justifying their actions while accusing others of wrongdoing. Instead, her primary focus lies in the fundamental manner in which members of society project their sins onto others and mercilessly cast stones at the chosen "sinner." In this way, the "sinner" becomes an object of atonement—a pure lamb selected to bear the burdens of the righteous and carry their guilt to the grave.
Though Mrs. Hutchinson is not portrayed as a Christ-figure in "The Lottery," the analogy is undeniable: "he who is without sin should cast the first stone." All the townspeople, in their self-righteousness, hurl stones at her, leaving Mrs. Hutchinson grieving her unjust fate: "It isn't fair, it isn't right," she cries out, moments before her death. This poignant scene in Jackson's narrative echoes a profoundly Biblical resonance, as noted by Hattenhauer, and reinforces the connection to the Salem Witch Trials.
The Salem Puritans, like the townspeople in "The Lottery," attempted to purge themselves of evil. However, unlike Christ's teachings that emphasize not judging others, the Salem Puritans openly judged and accused, believing this to be the path to maintaining their holier-than-thou existence.
Jackson's narrative can be seen as a reflection of the falsehood that Hawthorne exposed at the heart of Puritan America—a self-righteous, hypocritical belief in the purity of one's intentions while accusing others of wrongdoing. While Christ offered Himself as the Eternal Victim, taking upon Himself the sins of the world, Jackson's townspeople turn their wrath towards Mrs. Hutchinson, ultimately stoning her to death. Redemption and salvation are absent in this society, for they fail to understand the message of hope and forgiveness that Christ embodied.
In conclusion, "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson serves as a thought-provoking reflection on the darker aspects of human nature and the perils of conformity within seemingly virtuous societies. Jackson's exploration of the projection of sins and the merciless persecution of a chosen victim resonates with the historical backdrop of the Salem Witch Trials. Through her narrative, Jackson exposes the dangerous pretense of moral purity, a theme that echoes Nathaniel Hawthorne's critique of the Puritanical society. Both works remind us that the battle between good and evil rages within the human heart, and true redemption can only be found through understanding and compassion, not through the senseless persecution of the innocent.
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