Dark Sides of Human Nature in the Lottery

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Shirley Jackson was an American writer, who was born in San Francisco,1916. Jackson was acclaimed for many well-known novels and short stories she wrote such as: “”The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castles, and Charles. This research is about The Lottery and Charles; two of Jackson’s well-known short stories. The Lottery starts as a seemingly benign annual event in small village on a beautiful day and nice weather, and children are playing very happily after school. The story takes a dark turn as a climax when the event is revealed to be a gruesome sacrifice about stoning a villager who is his or her name be picked from the lottery. The ending of The Lottery is shocking many readers when it was published in the New Yorker. In Charles, the story is set as a little boy named Laurie who comes home from school as a kindergarten, and every day he will tell his parents about his friend at school named Charles which is brought a lot of attention to from his mother. The ending of Charles also has a climax that make it very interesting, and lead the readers to look closely into Laurie character. The Lottery and Charles are similar in climax ending and theme, and in the theme of two stories reveal the dark side of human nature.

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The most critical writing on Shirley Jackson has focused on her gothic and psychological novels and Jackson novels or stories have been mentioned of madness and evil are recurring themes in many of her works as critics and analysis. On her best-known short story The Lottery in which a typical small village stones one innocent person in the town each year as part of an annual ritual. Critics analyze this story through a Jackson’s writing style that is always point to a human behavior and family relate, this critic comment can be seen in her other stories, including Charles. In Judie Newman’s essay in American Horror Fiction: From Brockden Brown to Stephen King, 1990, Newman emphasized the darker aspect of Jackson family life state that Critical appreciation of Jackson’s fiction has increased over the decades. In parallel with this process has come a greater recognition of the darkness present even in her family chronicles, of which Charles is an example (Newman 78). Anne LeCroy, another critic, who praises Jackson’s ability to convey the trials of family in a realistic and humorous manner. LeCroy says in her Studies in American Humor Essay, Jackson’s humor most often stems from her understanding of the everyday nuances and working of the average family. Including the helpless frustration mothers often feel at observing the inexplicable behavior of their children. (LeCroy 78). This statement from LeCroy supports the idea that Jackson’s works was related to her family relationships. The facts that Mrs. Hyman shares the same name as Jackson married name and that Laurie shares the same name as Jackson’s own son are graceful touches that put forward the author herself and her family (Short Stories for Students, Vol. 27, pg 73). This quote proves the point that Jackson work somehow related to her real life. Criticisms are frequently categorized Jackson’s work as gothic in terms of human psyche, dramatic irony, which evil mind can be hid in human nature, community, society, and family relationships.

Speaking of the narrators of The Lottery and Charles by Shirley Jackson are very different. The point of view of the narrator in The Lottery is told from a third person narrative which could be one of the villagers but is not mentioned specifically and also does not appear to be one of the characters of the story. The point of view of Charles is told from one of the main characters point of view in the story and goes by the name of Mrs. Hyman. The entire story is told from the mother’s point of view, which makes the story a first-person narrative.

To look for who is telling a story is to look for who determines the story’s point of view in both stories The Lottery and Charles. There are two types of narrators One initial way to determine a story’s point of view is to identify whether or not the narrator appears a as major or minor character, as a sideline observer, or as an unnamed nonparticipant (27) The narrator who tells the story of the Lottery does not specifically appear to be one of the characters that have been mentioned in the story; we can define the narrator of the Lottery as nonparticipant narrator. The way the narrator is telling the story, the narrator does not see into the minds of the characters and relates the series of events in a matter-of-fact way and also does not comment on the events in the story. The people of the village began to gather in the square this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock to get home for noon dinner (Jackson 227-235), From this statement, however, the narrator in the story can gives many small details of the lottery taking place and as mentions of small town and there is not many people that live there, the narrator could be one of the villagers who lives in the town and who lives long enough to understand how everything goes on in the town: culture, people, and traditions. Rather than telling a reader the characters’ thoughts or character’s feelings, the narrator in the story simply shows the process of the lottery unfurling. Clean forget what day it was. Mrs. Hutchinson said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly (Jackson 227-235) this quote shows evidence of the idea that the narrator could be a villager who happens to be standing close or near Mrs. Hutchinson and Mrs. Delacroix in order to hear their conversation and see the way they were interacting. As a villager third person narration for an outside voice to tell what is going on with the story further underlines the shocking nature of the ending, as our only indications of the Lottery’s true purpose come from one of the villagers’ nervous manners, rather than from insight into their thoughts.

In Charles the narrator is one of the main characters directly involved in the action which is Laurie’s mother, who is called Mrs. Hyman. The narrator’s point of view in Charles we can define as participant narrator. However, the mother has a limited point of view of the events because she knows only what her son tells her and her husband. The mother describes her little boy starting kindergarten and she tends to take her son’s word for it, no matter what he says. The day my son Laurie stated kindergarten he renounced corduroy overalls with bibs I watched him go off the first morning with the older girl next door, (73-77), This quote proves that the writer, Jackson uses I in the story for the narrator and that obviously becomes a first-person narrator who tells the story from her point of view. How was school today? I asked, elaborately casual. All right, he said. Did you learn anything? his father asked. (Jackson 73-77). The quote shows the logical order of how the narrator describes whom is speaking in the story, which shows clearly that the mother is the narrator who directly participates in the story.

The two stories have revealed the dark side of human’s mind. Jackson presents a view of humankind as basically unenlightened, narrow, and evil. (Friedman) It relates into everyday life of human as the psychological nature of human to prey upon others, and all of humanity has this potential to victimize other humans and living creatures. Through many characters of The Lottery and along with the culture in the story in many serene characters that have shown out their madness to the society without knowing or realizing that is harm others. Violence is a major theme in The Lottery, Jackson enhances its emotional impact by setting the story in a seemingly civilized and peaceful society. This suggest that horrifying acts of violence can take place anywhere at anytime, and they can be committed by the most ordinary people. (142) Through a nice character like Mrs. Delacroix, who seem to be very nice to Tessie, she represents the duality of human nature. Be a good sport, Tessie, (Jackson 227-235) said Mrs. Delacroix after Tessie try to prevent herself from the lottery. Even though they both just have seemingly nice small take Mrs. Delacroix picked a large stone to hurt Tessie; Mrs. Delacroix is pleasant and friendly on the outside but underneath she possesses a degree of savagery. Another example of this degree of savagery is in Bill Hutchinson, who accepts the tradition of the lottery and carries on normally even though his wife Tessie was selected and he did nothing to protect her. Moreover, most of the other villagers seem to accept the lottery without questioning or wanting to stop it.

Compare The Lottery to Charles, Charles seem to be less scary and gruesome as noting bad is really happened, but both stories contain the theme of vitalization. Similarly, in Charles, the sours of evil turn out to lie disturbingly close to home, when the Hyman family seem to be the essence of respectability. (Short Stories for Students, Vol 27, pg. 75) In Charles, Mrs. Hyman and her husband seem to be a victim of their son Laurie, they all believed in everything Laurie said without considering that it is Laurie’s ruse in blaming Charles for his own bad behavior. Evil, Jackson seem to suggest, is not always conveniently located in some other place, in other people who are set apart from the decent majority. People must look for it within themselves and their own family and communities (Short Stories for Students, Vol 27, pg. 75) Having an innocent character like a kindergartener lying and behaving in the way Laurie does in Charles demonstrates the dark side of human nature depicted in Shirley Jackson’s stories. Today Charles hit the teacher, Charles even told a little girl in class to say a bad word (Jackson 73-77) Even though Laurie is just a little boy, his imagination and his creation of Charles and behavior of Charles can further show the dark mind of human nature.

The Lottery and Charles have many things in common in term of Jackson’s writing style, such as: theme, ending scene, tone and dark natured human behavior. Next to The Lottery Charles is the most frequently anthologized piece from Jackson’s collection, and probably for a similar reason: both end with an unforgettable scene that suddenly forces the reader to reconsider the whole preceding sequence of events. (27). The unforgettable scenes that end both stories are perfect examples of how Shirly Jackson’s writing is reminiscent of the dark side of human nature. In the story The Lottery, the tale ends with Tessie getting stoned for no reason other than its ritualistic tradition in the community. In Charles, the reader finds out in the end that there is fact no other boy named Charles that Laurie has been speaking of; demonstrating the ability of human nature to be dark sided and ill natured.

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Dark Sides of Human Nature in The Lottery. (2019, Jul 31). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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