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Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

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A classic piece of literature becomes a classic when it is able to traverse artistic, historical and scientific realms in an integrative and entertaining manner. “The Lottery” is one such piece of literature that continuous to hold debates among its readers.

“While most critics concede that it was Jackson’s intention to avoid specific meaning, some cite flatly drawn characters, unrevealing dialogue, and the shocking ending as evidence of literary infertility. The majority of commentators, though, argues that the story’s art lies in its provocativeness and that with its parable-like structure Jackson is able to address a variety of timeless issues with contemporary resonance, and thereby stir her readers to reflective thought and debate.”  (Enotes.com, 2006)

            The enigma of the short story lie how the author crafted the masterpiece. At the start of the story, the reader is brought into the characters and lives of the village that would seem typically founded from early American history. Slowly but surely, the writer presents the scene, the characters and the conflict at hand. The suspense in the middle part of the story puts the reader into an engagement that would make the reader see through the end of the narrative in one sitting. As the village is able to pick the winner in the lottery, readers worldwide would get the shock of their lives when they find out that the lottery is really a ritualistic process of picking who shall be stoned to death by the village that year.

            The story eventually stays on one psyche and drives the reader to think critical thoughts on why did the short story ended this way and what message did the writer want to impart? As a literary piece, The Lottery holds all the parts important to making a short story unforgettable. As a social statement, The Lottery achieves rocking existing social structures glorified by the prevailing social values. As a tragedy, The Lottery mirrors individual and social ills found in modern America.

            The short story is character driven. The use of characterization powerfully presented the village to the reader using visualization of the town folk. In such a short time, the writer was able to show the three-dimensionality of the characters. Everyone has a past, everyone is connected to someone, relationships either run shallow or deep and that everyone in the village has issues.

            And as a whole, using different personalities of the townsfolk, the writer is able to visualize another character encompassing the whole plot of the short story. The lottery personifies capitalism as the unseen character controlling the plot. “If anything can be said against “The Lottery,” it is probably that it exaggerates the monolithic character of capitalist ideological hegemony.  No doubt, capitalism has subtle ways of redirecting the frustrations it engenders away from a critique of capitalism itself.  Yet if in order to promote itself it has to make promises of freedom, prosperity and fulfillment on which it cannot deliver, pockets of resistance grow up among the disillusioned.” (Kosenko, Peter)

            Jackson contrasts her own kind of lottery against the lottery system in a capitalist world, where people would take a chance, invest their dollar for a winning. Using this game, the author brings a social statement against the game itself by adapting it to smaller environment that is stuck in hoping that they do not win the lottery that spells violent demise to the one whose name will be chosen. The lottery is just another form of gambling that is far more addictive than any chemical counterpart.

            Jackson merely comments that gambling, like the lottery does not give hope but supports the ills found in social structure propelled by much the same set of evils such as rumor mongering and the need to have a higher status quo compared to others. In an exaggerated manner, where the author stretched the consequence of gambling to its bizarre limits, Jackson has made readers rethink the value systems permeating the one society they live and die in.

            The voice of hopelessness can be felt from the start of the story. The reader would begin to wonder why the anticipation of the villagers does not bring happiness since there is a lottery at hand. In more ways than one, the author is consistent with the tragedy even when she crafts it from a supposedly happy and exciting endeavor.

            Consistency of hopelessness comes to its height when the plea of Tess into reconsidering her being chosen falls on deaf ears. The villagers commence their ritual and the village is transformed into the social statement of the author on the lottery as a game, the lottery as a social structure developed from the environment’s doctrines. The end of the short story is nostalgic of where human beings started out from before “civilization” occurred.

“Nostalgia becomes not only a link for the characters to connect to their past, but also a link to the past of the human race, our collective past. The lottery itself is a nostalgic ritual because it draws upon hundreds of thousands of years of human involvement in sacrificial rituals and the belief that bloodshed will produce prosperous conditions for their people.” (Madore, 2005)

The Lottery shall remain a classic piece of literature due to its controversial theme. Readers, scholars and teachers through critical analysis and debate would eventually find out what the author really wanted to impart. Sad stories specially those that shock audiences fare better than simply happy stories because the tragic stories are the ones most remembered. They are remembered because they essentially warn humanity against the elements that make up the tragedy especially those that become rituals of evil like The Lottery.

At best, the author reminds everyone that civilization is organic and traditions, rituals must grow together with the people like the village in North that villagers speak of. And this anti-thesis has been told through other stories as well. “Whether or not Jackson knew the story, she did not tell, but the parallels are there, and the contrasts point up nicely the sharp antithesis between the ironic mode of the modern story.” (Gibson, 1984)


Kosenko, Peter. A Reading of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” New Orleans Review, vol. 12, no. 1 (Spring 1985), pp. 27-32.

Madore, Amy. Nov. 10, 2005. Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and Its Nostalgic Connection to the Primitive Man

Enotes.com 2006. “The Lottery”  Shirley Jackson


Gibson, James M. “An Old Testament Analogue for “The Lottery,” in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 11, No. 1 March, 1984, pp 193-95

Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery and Other Short Stories. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 1949

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