The Lot of the Lottery: A Meditation Following an Analysis of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

Compared to millions of people around the world, people even as close as the neighbors living quietly in the duplex next door, I live in relative ease. My body generally maintains a healthy and strong state of equilibrium, ready and able to fight off what unhealthy I do come into contact with. Likewise, I was born, raised, and now live in one of the safest places in the world; a rural northeastern area in the United States.

At the same time, so many are nowhere near as fortunate as I have been. Children are born with deformities that make daily life a struggle, if not an impossibility. They are born into war zones like Syria or Sudan, or to countries such as India or China where historically the life of a female matters far less than that of a man. Maybe, they don’t even get to be born. Most life situations are not dictated by good or bad, right and wrong. If horrible things happen to children, how can it be karma, or have any self-made cause at all? And let’s not forget, bad things do happen to the best of people.

Perhaps it is merely luck of the genetic or geographic draw, the lives that we are initially assigned to and the events that randomly occur. Perhaps it is just a lottery, as dark as that of Shirley Jackson’s imagination. Except this lottery is out of human hands, left instead to the forces of nature, whatever they might be. So what can we do but keep on living, to accept our reality and recognize our privilege as a matter of luck and nothing more? We could volunteer our time, health, and advantage, give what we don’t need back to those in need. However, the question then becomes whether or not the fortunate have an obligation to the rest of society, to the genetically or geographically unfortunate? Should we live with the guilt of our luckor can we ethically accept our fortune, and live as if all others have the ability to live similarly? Do we have some obligation based on our lot, or are we expected only to live life to the fullest, perhaps even indulge in a life of hedonism?

Utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer has brought his theories to the absolute extreme, “If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.” Thus he suggests that living with any luxuries, anything beyond what is absolutely necessary, is unethical considering that people are living in complete destitution at the same time. Logically, this is completely valid. How can we live in happiness when people are literally starving to death? However, to give up everything is not an easy task, nor is it likely that many would ever follow through. Singer is extreme, functioning perhaps in theory rather than reality.

Certainly, I do not believe that we can do nothing while so many horrors occur in the world each day. Although, as Shirley Jackson brings to life in her story The Lottery,we often become numb to the dark side of human nature, barely noticing as people are figuratively put to death by stoning. Things are just as they are. At the very least, we must recognize that not all of the world population has the benefits that you and I do. We can’t all volunteer in war torn countries, or nurse victims of Ebola back to health, but we can all become aware of our place in the world, and try our best each day to make choices that benefit more than just the self, no matter how small the gesture might seem.


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