Problems in American Democracy: Remembering “The Lottery”

Mary Lee Johnson
4 min readAug 21, 2022
Remembering The Lottery

As I reflect on the current political sturm and drang that has been fueled by the former President and his adoring mob, I cannot help but think back to another story from my English Lit days that keeps reverberating in my head….

I am remembering the short story that was required reading in my school days. It was a short story by Shirley Jackson entitled, “The Lottery.” The story was about a small town that held what seemed to be an innocuous lottery each year. The mystery was in revealing what the actual ‘winner’ had in store for him or her.

The town would gather and choose a winner and when the person revealed the black ‘dot’ to the townspeople, they were stoned to death. The idea was that a good crop would come if they continued to do what they had always done.

Therefore, no one objected or wanted to change the outcome. Except, of course, the poor soul that won/lost the drawing each year! And so it goes, that there is a moral in this tale about the perils of unquestioning loyalty and the notion that no matter how immoral or unethical the tradition may be, you must follow the crowd and engage in ‘group-think’ in order to preserve the …tradition?

I can remember when we, as Americans, were horrified by the idea that Spanish bullfights were allowed to continue. And how “The Running of the Bulls” was such a savage spectacle. It seemed silly and pointless. For those of us living in the United States, it was in the same tradition as the idea of going to the Roman Colosseum to observe the spectacle of humans dying in a stadium. They were killed in a gory and brutal manner while thousands watched and laughed and cheered.

And then we fast forward to the present. There are a group of people who are cheering on the idea of overthrowing the government. They are laughing at the notion of brutally murdering elected officials. And they are leaving messages where they evoke the name of Christ as they admit to praying for death and destruction upon individuals who don’t think exactly the way they do.

The only thing missing here is the black box and the winning dot for a crowd of cheering people to stone someone to death. These are the times we live in. And that is a testament to the power of storytelling. The present times led me down a path which evoked a memory of a mythical time and place that one imaginative writer conjured in her head.

But we now know that Ms. Jackson was also shocked that there were people who actually wanted to know where this stoning was held? Did they still do it?! And if so, where can we find it!…Human nature really doesn’t change much in the course of the past thousand years or so. We are still trying to grapple with our notions of humanity and community; and we still must decide where we are going as a race and a species.

We are not simply a group of Americans who are stumbling through a dark period in our political history. We are a powerful nation that has been given great power and a great responsibility. We are all stewards of the fragile blue dot that is our Earth. And we are the keepers of the flame of history where Hitler and Nero ruled and where millions suffered and died when cruelty reigned.

We must also be able to focus on the present as we appreciate the past. And we need to find a way to light the torch of humanity for generations yet to come. What we will pass to our children and the generations yet unborn remains to be seen. I am thinking of different scenarios that play out in apocalyptic fashion as well as those visions imagining beauty and splendor.

Perhaps a spinning wheel of fortune may give us the answer. Or there may be an imaginative young and creative mind waiting to write about our trials and tribulations. “The Hunger Games” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” are two such imaginative tales. The Orwellian future of “1984” is another vision that was laid before us. We cannot foretell the future, but we can predict human nature in all its glory and its gore. Sadly, and all too often, the past has foretold the prologue of our times. Let us hope that future generations will learn and evolve into a kinder and gentler race that strives to care for each other and their planet. Let us hope they become the best of all possible specimens of humanity that embody all that we know our race is capable of becoming.



Mary Lee Johnson

Author of five books, & blogger at 6 Degrees Writer…