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Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

by Jang Hee I, Rohit Bulchandani, Will Weidman, Mark Kinney, Jake Fram

Historical Information

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” was written in 1948, at the beginning of the Cold War. American society at that time was entering a phase of staunch conformity, as anti-Communist sentiment and paranoia grew in the United States. This conformity expressed itself as ardent consumerism, blind patriotism, and zealous traditionalism. American consumers enjoyed advancements in mass production and sales of cars, appliances, and houses boomed immediately after World War II. Many in the United States viewed themselves in competition with their peers to have the newest products, establishing much of modern suburbia. Advertizing perpetuated tendencies of mass consumerism and conformity through messages about fitting in or being the envy of one’s block (Collins). Mass consumption was celebrated in the United States as being wholly capitalist, which aided its surge as Americans viewed themselves in an ideological war against Communism. During the early Cold War, Americans became increasingly patriotic, even to the point of systemic persecution of those who were believed to have subversive worldviews. Such persecution was most notably of the Red Scare period of the late 1940s and early 1950s, culminating with McCarthyism. This anti-Communist paranoia furthered conformity in the United States, as many Americans with left wing views would be forced to put on conservative appearances to avoid ostracism. In this respect, much of American society returned to more traditional values to further purport this attention to convention (“The 1940s”). This return to conservatism was primarily the result of commonly held beliefs that strong nuclear family units would prevent the radicalization of American children, and thus distance them from Socialist ideologies. It was primarily the combination of these elements that enforced systemic conformity in the United States post World War II.

Shirley Jackson wrote “The Lottery” as a commentary on this new rise in conformity. The story eerily shows how the townspeople’s rigid and unquestioning adherence to their rituals has brutal and savage consequences. Additionally, her story shows that conservative values are not as pure and sacred as many treat them. Indeed, every character in the story observes traditional family roles. Thus, their decline into savagery highlights the brutal history of many traditions we simply accept. Ironically, many characters in the story reflect notions that disobeying tradition will make them less civilized, while viewing the ritual stoning of one of their peers as natural. In these respects, “The Lottery” is intended as a comment of conformity in society and Jackson highlights what she perceives to be profound hypocrisies in such conformity.

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” was written in 1948, at the beginning of the Cold War. American society at that time was entering a phase of staunch conformity, as anti-Communist sentiment and paranoia grew in the United States. This conformity expressed itself as ardent consumerism, blind patriotism, and zealous traditionalism. American consumers enjoyed advancements in mass…