“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.
We associate the lottery with good things (winning the jackpot!) and the annual celebrations are also festive. Just like in this flourishing and cheerful town, there is nothing in the lottery that immediately suggests anything wrong with this setup either. The lottery, in fact, operates as an allegory of village life: at first it seems harmless, but then we begin to wonder what happens to all those contained laughter and piles of stones.
So, if the lottery is an allegory of the community, its rules and procedures should somehow correspond to the real elements of a village society; that is, if Jackson was meticulously willing to give very symbolic names to so many characters, then we must assume that he is just as careful in developing the lottery as an allegory.
Surprisingly enough, in the lottery, the villagers are first and foremost broken down into families. Family heads participate for the whole family, and the whole group has to abide by the result.
But – and here it gets interesting – isn’t it true that we are always classified by families? The family, whether it is composed of parents with children, marriages or friends, is the first unit of social interaction. What’s more, we often have to abide by certain rules as a family; the metaphorical little papers that our parents have chosen in the name of the whole family.
And speaking of all this about the house and the family, doesn’t it seem strange that it is always the man of the house who participates? And when the man of the house did not, as in the case of the Dunbar and Watson families, the circumstances were so curious that the inhabitants of the village made certain comments, which allowed us to learn that, for example, Mr.
Dunbar is at home with a broken leg and that the child Watson is already grown up so that he could participate for his mother, now that his father is mysteriously absent. The rule we see here is that each man literally chooses his own fate, but also the fate of his family. Women have no say in these matters, reflecting the patriarchal nature of this society’s traditional values.
The origins of the lottery are murky; even old Warner doesn’t know where they started. Their association of the lottery with the abundance of corn suggests that it began as a kind of public human sacrifice, in which the sacrifice of one person would ensure a bountiful harvest. Now ‘The original objects for the lottery game had been lost a long time ago…’ and there is a general amnesia of how the lottery was formerly prepared (was there previously a song, a speech, a ceremonial greeting?). But how can you stop something when you don’t know how it started? Without a sense of history, the lottery has become a completely empty act, one that must be finished in time to return home for ‘lunch.
That there is no origin of the lottery raises a very profound ethical question: obviously, it would not be a good thing if the lottery had started as a human sacrifice, but at least it would have some kind of logic. In this story, we see that Mr Graves helps Davy Hutchinson choose a piece of paper from the black box, we see children collecting their stones: they train them to see the lottery as naturally as their parents. In fact, they are instructed in savagery. The lottery is perpetuated completely, there is no need to explain anything (see the ‘Character Analysis’ section on the old Warner for more information on this point).
Children may receive the lottery with such enthusiasm because the essence of the human being is to be brutal and savage, but the lottery gives institutional recognition to murder that would otherwise not be allowed. Society is teaching children to kill. Moreover, we cannot ignore the proximity of the publication of this story to the Second World War.
“The Destructors” by Graham Greene “
The gang intends to destroy Mr. Thomas’s house with the sole purpose of destroying it, before they only agree not to steal anything because there should be nothing left, in fact, they burn the money they find. The action presents us with a group of ferocious children, accustomed to the bombed environment and for whom destruction means something very different from what it can mean for us. The violence of the gang reminded me of The Lord of the Flies and a subtitled interview with Jean-Paul Sartre in a double chapter of the magnificent Argentine programme Great Thinkers of the 20th Century. In it, the French philosopher narrates his life and tells us about his work, and in the first part he tells us how violent his environment reminds us of when he finished being a child to start being an adolescent. Perhaps all these narratives have in common their intention to make visible the great possibility that human beings have for the development of destructive processes. Adding all these pieces makes me think about how transcendental that moment of life is in the development of this type of behavior.