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Barack Obama and Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

Like many others Barack Obama’s historic speech, A More Perfect Union, touched me deeply. Why? Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery” helps me answer that question.

Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar. “Come on,” she said. “Hurry up.” Mr. Dunbar had small stones in both hands, and she said. gasping for breath. “I can’t run at all. You’ll have to go ahead and I’ll catch up with you.” The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles.


Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.

This is where Barack Obama is today, the center of a community ritual that seems inevitable. It happens at about the same time every year. It is so old and well established that people have even forgotten where and why the ritual started in the first place. There are some in the community who see a way out, even know of other communities where the ritual has been abandoned, but they are silent once the stoning begins.

“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed,

Mrs. Hutchinson seems to have no choice but to assume her role as ritual stoning victim and complain to the deaf ears of her stone holding community.

and then they were upon her.

This deadly game as played today in politics has continued to develop and a new rule has been added to the lottery script. Now you can save yourself by substituting someone in your place. All the pundits chant in unison “Barack Obama needs to …” as they define the rules of the game. So the lottery game goes on. The successful players follow the rules of the game and learn through bitter experience how to avoid being hit by the stones. But this is where experience fails us, individually and collectively, because the experience of lottery survivors argues that in order to succeed we have to play the game. If we accept the stoning all survivors will have blood on their hands by the end of the day and the lottery will continue. The core social dynamic that allows the perpetuation of the lottery is the willingness to separate someone out from the community for a punishment. In our current politics the punishment is invalidation of someone

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