Randomly Randomizing Randomness

Here is an essay I wrote for one of my English classes about a month ago. It is a reading of Shirley Jackson’s "The Lottery." (Beware of the typos in the on-line versions of the story!) Read the story first if you have not done so before (spoilers are awaiting) and do comment.

How Random?!

Tiny slip-ups can have huge impacts. Tessie Hutchinson, in Shirley Jackson’s "The Lottery," suffers from exactly that principle. She influences the draw herself by not remembering the traditions of the village she lives in, by not following the rules thereof, and by questioning them to boot. From the very beginning, before she is even introduced, Mrs. Hutchinson is bound to not see the sun set on the night of June 27th.

Tessie would have been much better off if she had shown up on time. The sole act of "clean [forgetting] what day it was," forgetting about the tradition, makes her the chosen one. The lottery is not to be questioned in any way, not even by arriving a little late. When Mrs. Delacroix says, "You’re in time, though," a slight suspicion creeps in. Tessie is "in time" to be picked out, to pick herself out, actually. And Mr. Summers’s remark, "Thought we were going to have to get on without you," tops it off: the villagers "have to get on without" Mrs. Hutchinson because she is going to be dead by noon. That is also why she did not want to leave the dishes in the sink. Did she have a notion and want her husband to come home to a clean house?

Families that break the rules, or do not abide by them, are more likely to "win" the lottery. After the first draw, when the heads of the families look at their slips of paper, the women cry out, "’Who is it?’ ‘Who’s got it?’ ‘Is it the Dunbars?’ ‘Is it the Watsons?’" Everyone first suspects the two families that did not follow the rules entirely to be the doomed ones. The wife had to draw for the Dunbar family and the oldest son for the Watsons. For whatever reasons, the two fathers could not participate in the lottery. Tessie Hutchinson almost did not come at all, which is worse because there is no outside cause for her not complying with the rules. She is fully responsible for it herself. Thus, her family advanced to the second round, and she "won" in the end.

Tessie gives more cause for the lottery to pick her out. She wants to get as many of her children into the final draw as possible, so as to lower the probability of picking the wrong lot herself. This is the opposite of self sacrifice. Mrs. Hutchinson would rather give one of her own children than protect them. Questioning the lottery and the procedure ("I tell you it wasn’t fair. You didn’t give him time enough to choose.") also increases the chances of her winning/losing.

The villagers would have stoned someone else to death if Tessie had arrived on time. Most likely it would have been a member of either the Dunbar or the Watson family because they were next in line of rule breakers. Then Mrs. Hutchinson would have been among the killers. So, one seemingly insignificant detail in the past has an unthinkable effect on the future, on the outcome of the lottery.


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