“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
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The short story The Lottery was written by American author Shirley Jackson in 1948. It was accepted with controversy and is still discussed by many literary critics. The major themes that the writer raised in her story seem to be timeless. Along with these themes, the main characters, literary techniques, writing style, and tone make readers think about life, death, family values, tradition, society, and relations within it.
The story takes place in a small village somewhere in America on the 27th of June. The year is not stated, but from the general description of the people, one may assume that it is the post-war time. People are gathering to take part in the annual lottery, which has become a well-established tradition for them. Village children are collecting stones, while Mr. Summers, a conductor of the lottery, is preparing everything for the event. Mrs. Hutchison, one of the village women, is late.
When everything is ready and the slips of paper are mixed in the box, all the people from the list come up and draw a slip. According to the rules, the participants are not allowed to look inside until everyone has taken their slip. It is interesting that during the lottery everyone is relaxed, and people discuss their everyday problems as if it was a usual day. However, the reader understands that something is wrong and the lottery is not a usual one. When Mr. Summers finishes calling names and people open their slips, they find out that Bill Hutchison has got the marked paper. All members of his family are to continue playing. Tessie, the woman who was late at the beginning of the lottery, protests and tries to prove that the lottery is not fair. Now each person draws a new slip, among which there is one with a black dot on it. The “winner” is Tessie and she gets her “prize” as the crowd begins to throw the collected stones at her.
The main themes that the author raises in The Lottery are those of society, tradition and customs, hypocrisy, and family. People are depicted as hard-working and responsible, and work plays an important role for them: “Well, now.” Mr. Summers said soberly, “Guess we better get started, get this over with, so that we can go back to work” (295). Besides, there is a hint about a gender division, when a woman who is eager to draw the paper instead of her husband looks strange in a way, as only men have to do this. Another obvious parallel with our society is the replacement of wooden chips with paper, which may be a symbol of the replacement of gold in favor of paper money.
Citizens of the anonymous village consider the lottery to be a usual event and this is proved by the author’s words “The lottery was conducted – as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program – by Mr. Summers, who had time and energy to devote to civic activities” (292). This story reminds that there are many traditions and customs that are followed by people just because they are traditions without understanding their meaning and thinking them over.
The main purpose of the writer is to show how the attitude of the crowd towards something may influence the attitude of an individual. For instance, Tessie, who is the “winner” of the lottery, at the beginning of the story seems to be calm and is not against the event. However, as far as she understands that she is going to die for the harvest’s sake, she casts doubt on the fairness of such a drawing. Thus, another prominent theme of this short story is hypocrisy. Maybe people do not completely realize what they do, and only those who draw the paper with the dot open their eyes and understand what is happening. When Mrs. Hutchison comes in a hurry to the place of the lottery, she encourages her husband to participate and she is “laughing softly” (294) with her friend. However, after the drawing, Tessie cries and tries to stop the crowd, and her former friend throws a stone at her as well. One more example concerns Mrs. Hutchison’s hypocrisy regarding her daughter, when she wanted her to be a part of their family and take the paper from the box too. All these themes are closely connected. They interrelate with the portrayals of the main characters and are expressed through them.
To my way of thinking, all the characters in the story are main ones. All people in the village play a definite role in the described events; thus, the Village itself can be named a protagonist. On the other hand, there is the antagonist, the Lottery, which tries to break the Village, but the latter seems to be invincible and stands up to the enemy. As it was already mentioned, people are hypocritical and the beliefs of the crowd are important to them. At the same time, the reader can make out individuals in this crowd, and there are still some glimpses of common sense in its behavior.
The short story The Lottery is called by literary critics “a masterpiece of psychological horror prose,” which is definitely true. The general tone of the story is calm and detached, but at the same time slightly terrifying. Among the writing techniques used by the author are detailed descriptions of the setting and people at the beginning, foreshadowing throughout the story, rapid plot development, and shocking conclusion.
It goes without saying that from the first lines, the readers understand that the piece of literature they read is not an optimistic one. For instance, boys who collect stones do not seem to be strange and even the pause before looking inside the slips does not make the readers worry at first. At the same time, the feeling of an unhappy ending is present and when it comes to the shocking denouement, all lost details come to the reader’s mind. The author’s message is expressed through the main themes of the story. Some critics, however, connect the plot and the ending to Jackson’s interest in witchcraft and the ritual, because people used to throw stones at women who were considered to be witches.
Still, the major idea of The Lottery is the interrelation between the crowd and an individual. It is shown how a person can change their mind under the influence of society and how people follow traditions and rituals without understanding them. A person’s values, including family, can flag if the majority wants that. Despite the fact that the ending is exaggerated and the “winner” of the lottery is stoned to death, it is understood that every person can become a victim of society. The themes raised in the story are timeless, as they exist nowadays and will exist later on. Each of us can be “stoned” in way as the beliefs of the crowd are never going to weaken under the pressure of an individual’s ones.
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