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The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

11 May 2017Essay Samples

‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson was published in 1948. The ending of the story is unbelieving as well as horrifyingly shocking. Patrick McGrath remarks that ‘The Lottery’ is a haunting and powerful collection of stories from one of America's finest writers. These stories are eerie, unforgettable, terrifying and hilarious. Erica Bauermeister remarks that Shirley Jackson's The Lottery is a memorable and terrifying masterpiece, fueled by a tension that creeps up on you slowly without any clear indication of why.

One is left gasping at the tragic end in the form of a death. It is not impossible for such a horrible tradition to have been existed in a society. In fact, even more crazy and totally brutal rituals have existed in many parts of the world. Wives are still burned alive along with their dead husbands and girl babies are killed for various reasons. Children killing, gender discrimination, slave butchering, burying alive, killing of a beautiful young girl as a sign of respect and plea to natural phenomenas, Gods and Godesses have all existed in various parts and societies of the world. There is an animal regularity and passiveness in the emotions of the village inhabitants who begin gathering in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock every year as if it is a ritual

The most stunning feature of the story ‘The Lottery’ is the normalcy of the society’s environment. Had it been a nomadic, primitive society one would not have been as shocking. There is total contrast between the social norms of behavior with the ‘must do’ tradition or ritual of lottery and brutal death of Mrs. Hutchinson. It is also a fact that no one knew exactly where this "lottery" originated from but that to give it up was foolish idea. It is the human nature that when he comes under the burning flame then they start thinking of the background of the problems and the nature of the ritual.

Again the person who actually conducts the ritual of the lottery drawing is a jovial man, Mr. Summers, who treats the conduction of this lottery just as he treats any other event he conducts such as the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program. In fact he was shown as someone who was appreciated for his time, effort and consideration he devotes to this horrific event.

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‘The Lottery’ actually incorporates within a black box, which is worn and faded over the years. The color of the box is black for a definite purpose of connoting the color of the death. The black box initially used wooden chips but with the growth in the number of villagers the wooden boxes have now been replaced with papers. All of the villagers’ names are written on a piece of paper for the drawing. This also shows that the villagers attached a particular value to the black box itself and any further usage of wooden chips would have made the black box useless since it would not be able to hold so many chips as it can hold papers. The villagers in the story, therefore, considered the black box itself as a magic box also.

The almost rationally insane villagers also rationalized their actions by believing that the lottery possessed a magical power to weed out the people who were useless in the village and didn’t work as much and as hard as the others. The rationalization has also settled itself due to the length of time involved and it’s being an old practice. With the passage of time people stopped questioning the rationale behind the terrible act. This also shows the powers of time. This is the reason why children also have no feelings of sympathy with the dying person. They are predisposed to this tradition of cleansing the village of the black sheep. They even take part in the killing and think of it as a play.

The story is a terrific example of influence of an old civic ritual of a society, which is so great that it eliminated all forms of cognitive senses of society’s members. For example, when Old Man Warner was told of discontinuation of this ritual in other towns, he snorted, "Pack of crazy fools. Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live hat way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery. Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody.”

Although, there is an indication tenseness within the members such as most of them were quiet, wetting their lips, not looking around when the lottery was about to start. On the other hand, children gathered together stones and it gives an impression of fun ahead. In the whole story, Mr. Summers is mentioned as being a respected person does things formally. Our society today is also normal apparently as in the story by all means. The effects of the story on our society can be judged from the corrective aspects. The very fact of popularity of the story as ‘shocking’ and ‘horrifying’ is proof enough of its non-acceptance as normal. Our unconsciousness is provoked when we come to face the reality of our actions and find such brutal things happening as a civic norm. The very fact that such brutal acts are civil norms and traditions give way to our acceptance of it as normal.

For example, there are many deadly sports that result in injuries and deaths quite often such as wrestling, car racing and boxing. Yet we enjoy these sports fully. Then there are people doing various shows of stunts in public and in festivals. People pierce different parts of their body with needles, they bury themselves under soil for many days and perform all such shows. Our society is positively provoked by the stunning end of the story-giving rise to questioning our behavior. It gives rise to the realization of a society towards even our normal behavior that may have been unethical and brutal but due to custom and practice have become a norm in our society.

‘The Lottery’ is a perfect story showing the unique selfish nature of humans. They want all the good things for themselves and all the bad ones for others. This is especially obvious in this case when Mrs. Hutchinson was selected and how she reacted when she found it was she who was actually selected by the Lottery. Her reaction changed all of a sudden from the one who took pains to come to the occasion hurriedly for sake of not missing the event or in other words for enjoying the killing of a person. She was ready to take part in the killing but was not ready to accept such death herself.

References:

  • The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
  • 500 Great Books by Women; review by Erica Bauermeister

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