Characteristics of human nature as depicted in Lottery

Shirley Jackson's 'Lottery' and the Characteristics of Human Nature

Shirley Jackson's 'Lottery' depicts the apex of individual cruelty and barbaric personalities within the presented social structure. It exemplifies how traditional traditions tie people into participating in activities that would be frowned upon by modern society. Ironically, the social claws clip not just on the rationalized but also on the rationalized. Lottery poses a sad situation in which the group must risk the lives of their loved ones in order to accept superstitions (Bickerton 13). The features of human behavior as represented in the 'Lottery' are discussed in this article. In answering the question, the report will peg on the notion that 'rational people can act irrationally, especially when it comes to traditional rituals.'

Human Nature and Traditional Beliefs

The 'Lottery' story presents a significant weakness of human nature and character in bowing to traditional beliefs and engaging in acts that do not befit their social classes. One of the characters of human nature, as shown in the story, is superstition. The entire story is based on superstition and traditional beliefs. The Lottery practice in that village is believed to have stemmed from the ancestors and had to be drilled each year. Despite the breach of fundamental rules of justice, the community members seem to be fully attached to the practice notwithstanding the detrimental outcome that follows (Malan 9). Innocent children, women, and men are killed each time the training is carried out. The irony of the entire process is seen in the sense that even the learned social members could not maneuver their ways out of the tradition and defend the innocent lives lost during the practice.

The Role of Ignorance

Another major characteristic of human nature is ignorance. Ignorance in its literal meaning could mean lack of knowledge. The community members seem to be blindly following the beliefs and traditions without considering the rationale behind such actions (Bickerton 14). They appear to accept anything and everything said to them by the traditional leaders. Poignantly, the story indicates that children come from school and gather for the practice. This shows the presence of literacy among the population; nonetheless, the community members are unable to apply their academic knowledge in the context of the traditional beliefs (Gilbert). This illustrates the character of human nature to stick to evil and ignorantly follow the superstitious beliefs irrespective of the outcome.

Fear and Cowardice

The human nature is also seen as cowardly. The members of the community seem to possess the fear of the unknown. This fear is characterized by the question, 'what will happen to me if I don't do this?' This shows how people are cowardly and not ready to face the consequential outcome that comes with the disobedience of the traditional laws. The traditional leaders also often cast fear upon the people by making proclamations and judgments insinuating severe punishments in both the current world and the world of the ancestors (Gilbert). Surprisingly, in the lottery, certain members argued and claimed that the tradition is no longer practiced and that some communities had abandoned the practice. These pleas fell on deaf ears as the leaders, Mr. Summer and Mr. Grave proceeded with the occasion. The people seemed to be completely scared of the leaders and the gods, which could punish them. The cowardly nature of humans makes them easily susceptible to negative beliefs. The community seems to bury their head in the sand and assume that all things are fine.

The Folly of Human Nature

The final characteristic of human nature as depicted in the story is folly. The people in the story seem to be foolish and incapable of making sound decisions. The society in the story comprises both literate and illiterate individuals who understood the social concepts. Under normal life scenarios, there is a tendency for the learned to dominate the society and rule over the unlearned (Bickerton 14). In such cases, superstition and traditional activities are often dropped for modernity. Nonetheless, the case in the story reveals sheer folly as both the rationalized and irrationalized are bundled together and ruled by uneducated and ignorant persons. This indicates the level of foolishness within the social setting. The people are incapable of making sound judgments to come out of their situations.


The above characteristics of human nature prove the notion that rational people can act irrationally in cases where traditions are upheld. The people within the society have depicted a profound sense of ignorance, foolishness, cowardice, and superstition. The human nature as revealed in the story exhibits the above characteristics and can be destructive and demeaning (Malan 8). The community has lost a lot of potential individuals through unjustified deaths. Innocent lives have also been lost in the process, especially when it is women and children that pick the darkened paper. Learned persons would apply the concept of probability in determining that a random person would select the darkened piece and that the gods were not behind such. The above analysis, therefore, proves the notion that human nature can make rational people act irrationally.

Works Cited

Bickerton, Emilie. "SHIRLEY JACKSON'S" THE LOTTERY." (2017): 13-14.

Gilbert, Paul. Human nature and suffering. Routledge, 2016.

Malan, Gert. "Mythology, Weltanschauung, symbolic universe and states of consciousness." HTS Theological Studies 72.1 (2016): 1-8.

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