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    Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”: Elements of the Story

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    Different traditions have existed and changed over the years, as they are passed down from generation to generation. Shirley Jackson presents an ominous take on tradition in her short story ‘The Lottery.’

    This tale is about a yearly tradition, where everyone in a small village partakes in the murder of a person that was randomly chosen in the infamous ‘lottery.’

    In her short story, ‘The Lottery,’ Shirley Jackson uses ordinary details about the setting and townspeople to conceal the inhumanity of its society in order to emphasize her theme that although society may appear and claim to be civilized, it is inherently barbaric.

    Through her use of setting, which appears to be ordinary and light-hearted, Jackson initially conceals, and then reveals the shock and horror of the story’s ending. She creates a positive mood by describing the setting, in order to give the story a pleasant start.

    In the first paragraph, she states, ‘with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.’

    She describes the summer day with positive adjectives, like ‘fresh warmth’, which creates an overall peaceful mood. By describing the flowers and grass with such vibrant detail, the author uses imagery to create a pleasant picture in the reader’s mind. Jackson gives the reader a false sense of security by starting the story off with positive vibes.

    Another detail that appears to be normal is the use of structure in her setting, which she uses to demonstrate modernization, leading to a feeling of normalcy.

    She states, ‘The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank…’ Buildings that are common in society, such as post offices and banks are used to create a sense of normalcy, as these buildings are used in people’s everyday lives.

    Another example of when the author gives the setting a more light-hearted tone occurs when she states, ‘The morning of June 27th, was clear and sunny…’ The year is not given, which leads readers to picture what a typical day is like in this village. Creating this mindset helps to develop the surprise effect throughout the story.

    Jackson also provides seemingly unordinary details about the setting to then reveal the darkness of the story. For example, the black box placed in the setting adds darkness to the scene. She states, ‘When he arrived in the square, carrying the black wooden box…’ In this story, the black box represents death, as it is what leads to the murder of one person.

    The color black is also associated with death and grieving. The black box also represents the lottery itself, as it is what was used to carry on the tradition throughout the years. From these details, the reader might further associate the lottery with darkness.

    Another unordinary detail is the pile of stones that is specifically mentioned as part of the setting in the beginning. The author states, ‘…eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys.’ Jackson uses foreshadowing to hint at the dark ending.

    At first, the reader may think that the children merely playing with the rocks, but they soon realize that those rocks are used for murder. She also states that the children broke into ‘boisterous play,’ which may lead the readers to think that children are regularly playing with each other.

    An additional unordinary detail about the setting is the sense of isolation that is created. It is stated in the first paragraph, ‘…where there were only about three hundred people…’

    By stating that there are only three hundred people, readers see that the town is very small and isolated. Many unusual things can go unnoticed in an isolated place. Not only does the author focus on the setting, but she focuses on the characters to conceal and reveal the darkness of this tale.

    Jackson both masks and emphasizes the violent and inhumane ending of the story by focusing on the characters’ conversations and behaviors, as well. She masks the violence by illustrating how the villagers’ role in the town is ordinary.

    The author states, in the second paragraph, ‘Soon the men began to gather, surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain tractors and taxes.’ From this, readers can infer that the villagers get by by farming.

    Farming in a small village creates a classic American town atmosphere, as farming is very common in rural America. Jackson also masks the darkness of the story by demonstrating how the children carry on as if it were a normal day.

    She states, ‘School was recently over for the summer… boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands.’ The children are relaxed and busily playing, as though it is an ordinary day. They are focused on school and playing, as innocent kids would. This will not lead the reader to suspect that they would participate in a tragic event, such as the lottery.

    Jackson also masks the darkness of the story when she associates the lottery with the lively events that Mr. Summers hosted in the village. She states, ‘The lottery was conducted- as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program – Mr. Summers…’ The lottery is compared to normal activities such as dances and programs.

    It holds the same position in this society as the square dances, the teen club, and the Halloween program do. Because the author associates a dark event, like the lottery, with common, light-hearted activities, the audience might interpret that they are similar events.

    Jackson then reveals the darkness and inhumanity of the story with unordinary details about the characters. She shows how the lottery had become a norm to the small village by stating, ‘The people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions…’

    The villagers are so used to the lottery that they don’t feel the need to listen to the directions. They don’t see it as something important enough to give their full attention to.

    Jackson also reveals the darkness of her tale by describing how hypocrisy is demonstrated among the villagers, as well. The author states, ”There’s Don and Eva,’ Mrs. Hutchinson yelled, ‘Make them take their chance!’ ‘Daughters draw with their husbands’ families, Tessie,’ Mr. Summers said gently. ‘

    You know that as well as anyone else.” Tessie Hutchinson previously had a cheerful tone upon arriving at the lottery. After she is chosen, she suddenly began thinking that the lottery is unfair. She would even be willing to sacrifice her daughters’ lives to avoid being chosen. She demonstrates both hypocrisy and selfishness.

    Lastly, the author demonstrates how the only ‘tradition’ that is carried on is violence. She states, ‘Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones.’ This quote strips the lottery down to its essence, which is murder.

    The villagers have failed to carry on fundamental parts of the tradition, and all that remains is violence. This illustrates how society can influence humans to commit barbarous acts. This detail, along with many others, reveals the inhumanity and violence of this tale.

    In her story, ‘The Lottery.’Shirley Jackson uses ordinary details about the setting and townspeople to mask the inhumanity of its society in order to bring attention to her theme that although society may appear to be civilized, it is barbaric, The author begins the story with light-hearted and positive setting and characters, and gradually develops them into darkness and violence.

    She illustrates how traditions may not always present pure intentions, and that society can drive humans to commit barbarous actions, which leads to the inquiry of whether or not traditions are blindly followed in our own society, today.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”: Elements of the Story. (2023, Jan 05). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/shirley-jacksons-the-lottery-elements-of-the-story/

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