themes of the lottery

The Lottery Themes

Violence and Cruelty

Violence is a major theme in “The Lottery.” While the stoning is a cruel and brutal act, Jackson enhances its emotional impact by setting the story in a seemingly civilized and peaceful society. This suggests that horrifying acts of violence can take place anywhere at anytime, and they can be commItted by the most ordinary people. Jackson also addresses the psychology behind mass cruelty by presenting a community whose citizens refuse to stand as individuals and oppose the lottery and who instead unquestioningly take part in the killing of an innocent and accepted member of their village with no apparent grief or remorse.

Custom and Tradition

Another theme of “The Lottery” concerns the blind following of tradition and the negative consequences of such an action. The people of the village continue to take part in the lottery even though they cannot remember certain aspects of the.

A discussion of important themes running throughout The Lottery. Great supplemental information for school essays and projects.

The Lottery and Other Stories Themes

suburban horror

This collection of short stories, most of which take place in ordinary American settings, aptly demonstrates Jackson’s penchant for suburban horror. As exemplified most clearly by “The Lottery,” Jackson’s vision of horror is not limited to haunted houses or exotic locations. On the contrary, horror is engendered in the mind, in the banal brutality of everyday individuals, who may be mothers, fathers, wives, and husbands. Unhappiness, sheer dissatisfaction with one’s life, can lead to the blurring of reality and fantasy, and even madness. And in this madness, horror can come alive in the most mundane of settings and situations.

lonely (unmarried) women

Jackson’s lonely women are most often portrayed as being unfulfilled and unhappy, both professionally and personally. They are most in danger of losing touch with reality and, in the extreme, becoming outright insane (as does Eleanor in Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House). A few of these women who are also unmarried include the narrator of “The Daemon Lover,” Marcia, and Elizabeth Style. However, the married female characters may also feel lonely, as do Mrs. Walpole, Mrs. Winning, and Emily Johnson. In some cases, their husbands are present but inconsequential or inattentive. In Emily’s case, her husband is away in the army. Whatever the case, these female characters are most likely to usurp another’s identity or lose their own.

city life versus country life

Jackson’s stories favor neither cities nor more rural settings. However, she does clearly demonstrate a difference in mentality and lifestyle between these two opposing locations. For example, in “Pillar of Salt,” Margaret is a woman from the country who becomes wholly paralyzed by her vacation in New York. In contrast, Mrs. Hart moves from the city and attempts to settle into the country life, but finds herself constrained by the narrow-minded gossip of the village. She is unable to stand up for herself and refuse Mrs. Anderson’s request to move in with her family; instead, Mrs. Hart tries to imagine how glamorous this lifestyle will sound to her unknowing city friends.

To city people who move to the country, the prevalence of small-town gossip and narrow-minded attitudes constrains them. To country people who arrive in New York, they lose their identities in the faceless masses and find themselves struggling to maintain their sanity.

mental illness

Many of the narrators and protagonists of Jackson’s stories display signs of mental illness. Mrs. Arnold, in “Colloquy,” explicitly addresses the issue of mental illness. However, this theme is most effectively displayed by the characters who are not even aware of their lack of consciousness of reality. In fact, the reader does not realize, for most of “The Daemon Lover,” that the narrator has possibly conjured up the existence of James Harris and is in fact very ill. Similarly, Clara Spencer’s journey to mental illness occurs stealthily and is initially masked by her groggy state.


Those of Jackson’s stories which are not as dramatic or violent as “The Lottery” show the more subtle dangers of communities, particularly those that are close-knit and susceptible to gossip. Narrow-minded members of the community often force outsiders to conform to their expectations. When they do not conform, these outsiders are banished, such as Mrs. MacLane in “Flower Garden.” Conformity exerts its influence in non-rural, city settings as well. Young women, such as Hilda Clarence or Elizabeth Style, move to New York in hopes of making their mark and becoming successful, the envy of their small-town friends and relatives. They are pressured to conform to certain expectations of success, and when these are not achieved, they become deeply dissatisfied with their lives and seek escape in fantasy.

significance of home

The home represents the stability of one’s identity and correlates with certain aspects of one’s identity, in many of Jackson’s works. For example, those individuals without unique homes to call their own also do not retain a strong grasp on their individuality and fail to assert themselves. For example, Emily Johnson, who lives in a building with multiple identical apartments, is unable to stand up to Mrs. Allen and reclaim her belongings. David Turner, who allows Marcia’s dominant personality to overcome him, thus loses his apartment and is relegated to hers.


Jackson’s characters address their profound sense of unhappiness and dissatisfaction by seeking new identities. Instead of attempting to change their situations through concrete, realistic means, her characters dissolve their identities and attempt to usurp others. For example, Miss Hilda Clarence attempts to fulfill her ambition to become a dancer by pretending to be Mrs. Roberts. Marcia takes advantage of David Turner’s hospitality and insinuates herself into his home, allowing Mr. Harris to believe that she is the rightful inhabitant of the apartment and the hostess.


Jackson touches briefly upon themes of racism in “After You, My Dear Alphonse” and “Flower Garden.” Mrs. Wilson, in the former, attempts to mask her racism by being charitable towards Boyd, an African American child. However, she is only condescending to him and makes unjust and racist assumptions about his family situation. In “Flower Garden,” the community’s racism results in the ostracism of Mrs. MacLane and her son.

The Lottery and Other Stories study guide contains a biography of author Shirley Jackson, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis. ]]>