Shirley Jackson’s Story “The Lottery” Analysis
Shirley Jackson wrote a work that became a precedent for the entire world community. The Lottery’s story caused outrage worldwide, mainly affecting small towns in America. The report describes the ugly side of small-town life during the annual event. Shirley Jackson’s story shows many sins committed by humankind for various, not always understandable, and explainable reasons. Shirley Jackson’s story offers many sins committed by humanity for different, not always coherent, and explainable reasons. The wilderness of the American countryside fosters traditions and customs that are particularly brutal. Beliefs and entrenched holidays dominate among the uneducated local population. Death identifies the ultimate fate of any action, both human and uncertain, described in the story. It personifies atonement from sins and the horrors that the people of this village commit to each other.
The story takes place at the height of summer when all residents gather for the traditional celebration. At the beginning of the story, the author creates an atmosphere of celebration and joy, but it soon becomes clear that no one wants to win the lottery. The story reaches its climax and the dissonance of the festival with horrific traditions due to the author’s use of a system of contrasts. Such a system allows the author to make an unexpected plot twist that is entirely at odds with the reader’s expectations.
The picturesque descriptions of the celebration and the lottery are in stark contrast to what happens after the winner is chosen and the brutality of the story’s final scene. Vivid descriptions of nature and the environment, when people admire the blossoming flowers and bright green grass, make them horrified at the futility and irreversibility of a quick reprisal. At the same time, the author uses the rounding technique when he describes boys throwing stones at the beginning of the story, which can be mistaken for ordinary child’s play. However, the book’s final scene also presents a ruthless picture of a peculiar game with stones.
Just like the fun of children and the excellent weather that evokes a positive feeling in people, the title of the story, The Lottery, refers to the reader to a pleasant sense of fun and winning. Thus, when the author reveals the winner’s true payoff in contrast to the celebration and anticipation of the reader, the story takes on an even more terrifying meaning. The peaceful atmosphere prevailing at the beginning of the story amid small talk and jokes, as it were, refutes the impending violence against an innocent person.
The perspective of the narrator, who describes the story from the side of an observer, and not a participant in the events, coincides with the view of the inhabitants, which is why the structure and syllable of the story, telling about the events, seem to be ordinary. Unremarkable at first, the story of the life of a small settlement is described in a familiar tone so that readers cannot suspect the real intentions of the citizens.
However, the narrator is part of this rural life, and he is accustomed to their customs and traditions. He emphasizes that this village is too small for a lottery, and the subsequent ritual could be “through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner” (Jackson, 65, 1991). The annual lottery has become too unremarkable for residents to ignore when discussing agricultural issues. The lottery is the same celebration as Halloween and dancing for teenagers for the local population. They treat the lottery as a civic event, not appalling considering how it ends. At the same time, readers find a sharp contrast between dancing and killing. Nevertheless, they are the same thing for the locals and the narrator.
Jackson’s story is also notable because the final scene does not happen too abruptly and unexpectedly. As the plot progresses, the author gives more and more clues that allow you to understand what conclusion this story is leading to. Jackson points out the abnormality of the atmosphere and behavior of people around the holiday. For example, during the lottery period, all residents try to keep away from the stool on which there is a black box with tickets. All people hesitate when Mr. Summers asks for help, and here doubts about the joy and happiness of the population creep in. This reaction does not imply that people are looking forward to the lottery and hoping to win.
An unexpected plot device is that the residents of the lottery can be compared with a demanding job where a man is needed. Therefore, Mr. Summers asks the woman if she has a man who can do it for her (Nugraha & Mahdi, 2020). Additionally, everyone praises the boy, telling his mother that it is joyful to have a man in the family. The lottery itself also takes place in a tense atmosphere of bitter anticipation. The villagers don’t look at each other, and Mr. Summers and the men drawing the pieces of paper are grinning nervously at each other and themselves.
At first glance, such details may seem strange but not particularly remarkable and understandable. For each strange event, its explication can be selected, such as the explanation of the stressful state of people by the desire to win the lottery. However, at the end, when the so-called winner cries and screams about the unfairness of participation, the reader is presented with the realization that all the details of the story were given to show violence. However, here the reader can also see the influence of the traditions and customs of the community. In the final scene, Tessie does not protest the lottery as it might seem; she is only worried about her death sentence. Thus, such cruelty has become so entrenched in the inhabitants’ heads that they do not see anything wrong with it.
As with many stories, The Lottery can be interpreted in various ways. On the one hand, the story can be seen as a commentary on the Second World War with its horrors and brutality. On the other hand, history can be interpreted as an allegory for the Marxist system that took root at that time. However, regardless of interpretation, the Lottery, at its core, is about the ability of people to commit violent acts. All the more so when such violence is a consequence of the social order and entrenched customs, the author shows how cruel and impartial people can be if such a ruthless murder does not concern themselves.
The narrator claims that people honor traditions, and “no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box” (Jackson, 66, 1991). However, the real meaning lies in people hardly remembering where this custom came from. The villagers only remember the details of the origins of the lottery and understand that even the black box is not original. There are various rumors, and some residents mention the songs and fireworks that accompanied the lottery. Therefore, no one can say with certainty about the reasons for the tradition’s origin and what details it is filled with.
The only thing that remains constant for residents is that cruelty and violence reveal residents’ priorities and, perhaps, are an allegory for humanity as a whole. Thus, the author himself appeals to the brutality of people, describing them as those who do not remember the tradition but respect it. The author emphasizes that “although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones” (Jackson, 67, 1991). Such a comment by the author is a vivid marker of the attitude of residents toward other residents.
Additionally, one of The Lottery’s most notable moments is the narrator’s clear statement that “a stone hit her on the side of the head” (Jackson, 69, 1991). The construction of the sentence, as it were, makes the reader look at the situation from the side that the stone itself flew at the woman and no one threw it. From a grammatical point of view, the stone hit Tessie itself, and none of the residents was involved in this. However, all residents participate in this massacre of rocks, which they call the lottery (Kasper, 2017). It is noteworthy that even Tessie’s little son threw stones at her when older people let him do it. Therefore, no one feels guilty and does not take responsibility for the murder since all residents are involved in the massacre.
Jackson also shows that it is natural for human nature to cling to the past. That is why people call other villages fools, where there is a rumor about the possibility of canceling the lottery. It also shows that such attachment to the past leaves no room for progress, even when necessary to improve life. The lottery is an imaginary holiday or tradition and acts as the most potent symbol.
The distribution box, which contains the names of the inhabitants, is painted black and is a kind of allegory for death. This box personifies a bloody tradition, the origins of which no one remembers, but despite its wear and tear, no one replaces the box with a new one. Although not the original box, no one can think of improving or fixing it. People are reluctant to choose a new pack or cancel the lottery altogether, which shows their distrust of progress and unwillingness to develop.
The box on a three-legged stool also shows the lack of progress and rootedness of tradition. The stool is seen as a symbol of pride in being a stand for many lotteries and is also regarded by residents as a kind of symbolic item. Otherwise, this stool could be replaced with something more presentable. Thus, it is possible that the lottery ritual once made sense, but now people imitate and maintain the illusion of their heritage.
Jackson describes a village of respectable Americans who speak of the lottery with joy and reverence. Therefore, the story does not end with the outcome of the plot and the description of the death ritual since the lottery is a sacred event for the inhabitants. The complex social structure of the village is also shown, according to which some run the lottery while others are its victims. There are robust gender roles among the villagers, and men pull tickets for women. However, the story preserves the cruelty and ignorance of the villagers, ready to do anything to keep the ritual going.
Jackson, S. (1991). The Lottery. The Lottery and Other Stories. New York: Farrar.
Kasper, D. (2020). “What a complete and separate thing I am”: Introduction to rethinking Shirley Jackson. Women’s Studies, 49(8), 803-808. Web.
Nugraha, I. S., & Mahdi, S. (2020). Transitivity system on building character of Mr. Summers in The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. Celtic: A Journal of Culture, English Language Teaching, Literature and Linguistics, 7(1), 35-43. Web.