Controversial Short Story “The Lottery” by Shirly Jackson

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Shirly Jackson was an American author whose stories took on horror and mystery. She wrote of her childhood and experiences that included memoirs, short stories and novels. One controversial short story she wrote was published in the New Yorker on June 26, 1948 called The Lottery. It depicted a rural community shackled by tradition with origins that time has erased. Jackson foreshadows the conclusion but confuses and even tricks the reader with characters who lack normal emotion that brings irony and symbolism to a grand climax.

Greeted with descriptions of a beautiful day the story sets out as a delightful experience with children playing, the community gathering together, and preparations being made for the annual event known as the lottery. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones (Jackson). The foreshadowing begins as an innocent sport, with boys collecting and piling rocks. the purpose of the rocks is unknown at this time, but the general sentiment is relaxed and blissful.

Once the adults were introduced into the story the attitude shifts slightly. The atmosphere seems less comfortable and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed (Jackson). The impression of the event is starting to come into question, and the summer party event starts to become more formal. Descriptions of the black box, the blank papers, and the characters who are leaders in the community slides the reader back to confusion.

Tessie is the wife of the man who picks the paper with the black dot. Her reaction foreshadows the event as an evil tradition and moves the story n a completely different direction. She begins to rebel and speak up against how her husband choose the paper. The confusion persists as the rest of the family has no serious reaction to the paper and the reader is again left with mixed signals from all the characters reactions to the everchanging occasion.

The title The Lottery depicts a positive outcome as most people associate lottery as winning something of value. The idea of the winner being executed completes the ironic circle of the story. Tessie stands out because she is the only one who seems to not take the lottery seriously. The rest of the community is gathering, preparing and waiting while she forgets the event is even happening. She may disregard the event as unimportant or irrelevant, but eventually she is the one chosen. The only character who is not bound by tradition, Tessie is in the end the one who is killed because of it.

The significance of the rocks being gathered by the boys, and later being used to stone Tessie emphasizes the reality shared by all the characters. It has simply become the norm to have an event every year that concludes with one of them dead. No one is excluded as a candidate, so the rocks could have later been used to murder the one who added it to the pile.

The Lottery is brimming with symbolism from the black box being used longer than anyone can remember to the blank papers the people discarded blowing in the wind. Lots of detail about the old black box is given and it all points to tradition. It is made from pieces of the box that came before it, and is regarded as something sacred, but only for one day. The rest of the year it is nearly forgotten about being in multiple places out of site. The people want to forget about what they do annually and don't live day to day fearing tradition.

The dot on the paper that chooses the next victim is made by Mr. Summers. Despite being a death sentence, he has a casual attitude regarding it and takes lightly the symbolism. The papers themselves represent the families first, then the people in the individual family. Later when the papers are thrown to the ground and blow into the rocks show how insignificant life is to the community. Tessie is casually thrown away with the papers just as the victims of those who came before her.

The execution style of stoning is significant because it involves multiple people. The community killed Tessie as a group, leaving not one individual at fault. Her death is seen to them as a group act, including her young son, with no shame or guilt associated with it. They will continue with their lives as if they just finished a game of bingo and do it again next year.

Jackson set a delightful tone with the introduction of The Lottery, however the characters unnatural reactions and the horrifying conclusion twisted the story into a conundrum. How does tradition control society, and do current ethical standards cancel out what was once a communities past? There was talk during the drawing of the papers about other communities ending the annual lottery. That attitude was quickly shooed away and described as uncivilized despite the reason the event was taking place had been lost to time. Tradition must be continued because to break with it would mean that the actions taken in the past would be judged. Johnson displays humanity as a group mob, bowing to tradition and oblivious to outrageous behavior, as long as it is done together.

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Controversial Short Story "The Lottery" by Shirly Jackson. (2019, Dec 18). Retrieved November 28, 2023 , from

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