The Relevance of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in Modern Society

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“The Lottery,” a short story written by Shirley Jackson, is a thought-provoking piece that explores the darker aspects of human nature and society. Published in 1948, it remains remarkably relevant today, offering insights into the disturbing tendencies of conformity, the perpetuation of tradition, and the potential for violence in seemingly ordinary communities. This essay delves into the work’s commentary on human nature and society, discussing its enduring relevance in the modern world while drawing connections to the ideas presented in the video “What is Literature For?”

The Dark Side of Conformity: Blind Acceptance and Obedience

In “The Lottery,” the most striking commentary on human nature is the portrayal of conformity and the dangers of blind acceptance. The residents of the village engage in a horrifying ritual, the annual lottery, where a member of the community is chosen to be stoned to death. The chilling aspect is not just the ritual itself, but the unquestioning obedience and lack of resistance displayed by the villagers, even when it becomes clear that the chosen person faces a gruesome fate.

This theme of conformity resonates with modern society, where individuals often conform to social norms, even when those norms are morally questionable or harmful. This phenomenon can be observed in various contexts, such as groupthink in organizations or societal pressure to conform to certain ideals, regardless of individual values. As Kosti et al. (2019) note, the desire to fit in and avoid conflict can lead to the suppression of dissenting voices, potentially leading to dire consequences. This aspect of “The Lottery” serves as a cautionary tale, urging readers to question the motives behind conformity and the impact it can have on individuals and society.

Tradition as a Double-Edged Sword

The Persistence of Rituals

Another significant element in “The Lottery” is the portrayal of tradition. The lottery is presented as an age-old ritual, a tradition that the villagers blindly uphold without fully understanding its origins or purpose. The story highlights the dangers of clinging to tradition without critically examining its meaning and implications. The townspeople follow the ritual because “it’s always been done this way,” without stopping to consider the moral consequences of their actions.

This theme is relevant in the modern world, where societies often grapple with the tension between preserving tradition and embracing change. The work of Giddens (2019) emphasizes that traditions can provide a sense of continuity and identity, but they must be subject to critical evaluation to ensure they align with evolving values and ethics. Failure to reevaluate and adapt traditions can lead to harmful outcomes, as exemplified by the chilling events in “The Lottery.” The story’s message about the importance of questioning and reevaluating long-standing practices is particularly relevant in an era of rapid technological and social change.

The Thin Line Between Civilization and Savagery: Human Potential for Violence

One of the most disturbing aspects of “The Lottery” is its portrayal of ordinary people engaging in an act of extreme violence. The villagers, including friends and family members, participate in stoning the chosen victim, revealing the potential for cruelty that lies beneath the veneer of civilization. This theme reflects a bleak aspect of human nature, where individuals, under the influence of collective pressure and conformity, can resort to violence even against their own.

This aspect of the story resonates with the modern world, where history has shown us instances of ordinary individuals committing atrocities under the influence of authoritarian regimes or societal norms. The research by Zimbardo (2018) on the Stanford prison experiment illustrates how individuals can quickly adopt roles that involve inflicting harm on others when placed in certain situations. The study of human behavior in extreme circumstances, as depicted in “The Lottery,” serves as a reminder of the importance of promoting empathy, critical thinking, and ethical decision-making in society.

The Relevance of “The Lottery” Today

In today’s society, “The Lottery” remains a relevant and cautionary tale, shedding light on the dangers of conformity, the uncritical perpetuation of tradition, and the potential for violence within communities. The story’s commentary on human nature serves as a reminder to question authority, critically examine long-standing practices, and recognize the thin line between civilization and savagery. It prompts us to reflect on the role of literature in challenging societal norms and promoting thoughtful engagement with the world around us.

The ideas presented in “The Lottery” align with the concepts discussed in the video “What is Literature For?” Literature, as the video suggests, serves as a means of exploring the complexity of human experience and prompting readers to question assumptions about the world. “The Lottery” accomplishes this by forcing readers to confront uncomfortable truths about human nature and the potential for darkness that resides within us all.

In conclusion, “The Lottery” is a timeless work that continues to hold a mirror to modern society, challenging us to examine the ways in which conformity, tradition, and the potential for violence shape our lives. Through its powerful narrative, the story calls for critical thinking, ethical reflection, and a commitment to building a more compassionate and just society.


Giddens, A. (2019). The consequences of modernity. Stanford University Press.

Jackson, S. (1948). The Lottery. The New Yorker.

Kosti, R., Kapti, I. N., & Molle, D. (2019). Conformity in organizations: An overview. European Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies, 4(1), 242-249.

Zimbardo, P. G. (2018). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Random House.