Book Review: Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery (1948) 

“The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority,  

But to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” 

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE) 

Shirley Jackson’s book entitled ‘The Lottery’ is certainly a perennial tome – forwarded to me by my mother Diane Wyles – as it gives an insight into why people said to be free-thinking individuals, act collectively in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the welfare and survival not only of one another, but also of the group! Quite often, as Jackson reveals, part of the required process in an implicit brain-washing which inverts the interpretation of reality, and misrepresents the processes and procedures that define bourgeois society (and culture) as being something other than these things are! Certainly, death smiles at humanity and all humanity can do is ‘smile’ back – as Marcus Aurelius once observed! The question is what we do about this reality? Shirley Jackson has provided an extraordinary insight into the traditions and rituals of pre-bourgeois society (what we might term the ‘ignorance’ of human society) – which in her fictional tale permeates into the modern time and is viewed as the apex of wisdom! The supposed civility of the (existential) present has become dependent upon the mindless practices of the past! 

Oh yes, there is fun, danger and even a sense of anticipation – all wrapped-up in a religious-like sense of inevitability – but none of this can hide the fact that someone dies because they are ritualistically ‘murdered’ by the community they were born into, have loyally served, helped preserve and strove to protect – and through their off-spring even perpetuated! In years gone by, even as a child, all those chosen by the blind luck of the ‘draw’ (surely, the most ‘democratic’ of traditions) have all participated in the past during earlier ‘lotteries’, and all have thrown stones at those who died before them! The oldest of those still living – who have survived so many ‘lotteries’ and have killed so many others – are the strongest supporters of ‘conservativism’ and the greatest upholders of the ‘lottery’! To them, those who participated (and ‘died’) in the past – did so with a certain moral vigour far greater than those chosen for the human sacrifice confront their fate today! Only those who have not yet been killed can think in this manner! As Marcus Aurelius once commented – to arise anew each morning, is an act in itself that is a blessing!  

Jackson certainly presents an indictment of ‘free will’ in a country which trades (quite literally) on the false idea that only its culture is ‘free’ and that all other societies must be blanket-bombed until they are just as ‘free’! Today, of course, Jackson would be writing from the point of view of a US government which is supporting a Neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine – and which is turning the murdering of its own citizens (and those nearby) as acts of freedom fighting (such as the stonings conveyed in ‘The Lottery’) hiding what they really are – such as War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity! We must believe because it is the done thing! No one must question or exercise free-thinking! If the government says black is white – then as long as the government possesses the bombs and bullets to use against those who dare to think otherwise – then black will remain white for the duration of the emergency! Everyone must go through the tired old rituals of ‘freedom’ so that they can all see (through the ensuing sacrifice) just how ‘free’ they really are! The best revenge is NOT to be like your enemy – what stands in the way – becomes the WAY! Do not fear death – fear only never allowing yourself to live (Marcus Aurelius)! 

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