Conforming to a group mentality can have dangerous consequences.
One of the most disturbing aspects of “The Lottery” is the casual way in which virtually everyone in the village approaches the event of the lottery. This tradition, which Jackson suggests has existed for many decades, goes unquestioned year after year presumably because no one is bold enough to seriously challenge the group mentality that allows it to continue. Old Man Warner serves as a prime example of how powerful this shared perspective can be. Not only is he deeply committed to the idea of the lottery, but he also immediately dismisses anyone who mentions abandoning the practice as a “pack of crazy fools.” In a close-knit community where civic engagement seems particularly valued, this kind of harsh criticism likely functions as a deterrent against straying from the group mentality. This single-mindedness is what ultimately allows the senseless murder of a community member to continue year after year. With no one willing to challenge the status quo, nothing changes. No one remembers the original details of the lottery, yet the tradition continues because the community blindly accepts it as a fact of life. The sense of blindness, or unawareness, that submitting to a group mentality can cause ultimately makes it easier for inappropriate or dangerous behavior to go unchecked.
Traditions should change as society changes.
While Jackson deliberately avoids giving a clear description of the time period in which the story takes place, she does offer enough information to suggest that the present culture of the village is drastically different from that of the era responsible for the origin of the lottery. The town may still be small and agrarian, but mentions of “tractors and taxes” imply that the setting is modern enough that ritual human sacrifices should no longer be common practice. The black box serves as another indicator of just how outdated the tradition of the lottery is. Jackson describes the box as “no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color,” details which suggest that the tradition it represents is a relic of the past rather than something well-suited to the present day. The villagers’ unwillingness to replace the box despite its poor condition represents a refusal of change. Jackson seems to argue that making small adjustments to traditions, such as exchanging wood chips for paper and omitting some of the pre-lottery performance, is insufficient. Instead, cultures should continually update their practices to reflect the values of the present. Failure to let go of outdated traditions, as “The Lottery” suggests, can have harmful consequences.
People are complicit in society's immoral actions until the consequences directly harm them.
Tessie’s change in behavior throughout the story emphasizes the notion that people are often complicit in immoral acts until the consequences of those acts become directly harmful to them. Part of what makes the lottery so alluring to the community is that its consequences only impact one person directly, and the victim has no way of standing up for themselves. As a result, the villagers learn from a young age to eagerly gather stones and readily participate in the stoning without considering the consequences of their actions.
When Tessie first appears in the story, she behaves in a similar manner and seems to support the continuation of the lottery. She even tells her husband Bill to “get up there” when his turn to draw a paper from the box arrives, a comment which reflects the casual attitude she possesses about the situation. Once she discovers that a member of her family will become the victim, however, Tessie’s perspective changes completely. She immediately challenges Mr. Summers and argues that he did not treat her husband fairly when he went to draw his slip of paper. Her continual cry of “it isn’t fair” suggests that the perspective she gains as the victim enables her to see the reality of the situation, which is that nobody deserves to die in the name of a senseless and outdated tradition. Tessie’s character arc ultimately allows Jackson to highlight the hypocrisy of those who stand by and let injustices occur until they begin to suffer personally.