The Lottery Shirley Jackson Essay

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It is as if ordinary life had suddenly ceased and were replaced, without warning, without break, and without change of scene, by some horrifying nightmare.

Hence the shock, which the author has very carefully worked up to.

Jackson's fiction is noted for exploring incongruities in everyday life, and "The Lottery," perhaps her most exemplary work in this respect, examines humanity's capacity for evil within a contemporary, familiar, American setting.

Noting that the story's characters, physical environment, and even its climactic action lack significant individuating detail, most critics view "The Lottery" as a modern-day parable or fable which obliquely addresses a variety of themes, including the dark side of human nature, the danger of ritualized behavior, and the potential for cruelty when the individual submits to the mass will.

SOURCE: "On the Morning of June 28, 1948, and 'The Lottery,'" in The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Story Fiction, edited by Ann Charters, St. I was quite casual about it, as I recall—I opened the box, took out a couple of bills and a letter or two, talked to the postmaster for a few minutes, and left,... Most acknowledge the power of the story, admitting that the psychological shock of the ritual murder in an atmosphere of modern, small-town normality... In the following excerpt, she briefly discusses the publication history of "The Lottery" and examines the story's theme of social evil.] One of the ancient practices that modern man deplores as inhumanly evil is the annual sacrifice of a scapegoat or a god-figure for the benefit of the community. Either they are concerned with identifying specific items of folklore in works of literature, or they attempt to interpret the use of folklore as integral to the meaning of particular literary creations. Seymour Lainoff early on invoked the "primitive annual scapegoat rite" discussed in Frazer's The Golden...

SOURCE: "'The Lottery': Symbolic Tour de Force," in American Literature, Vol. SOURCE: "The Short Stories," in Shirley Jackson, Twayne Publishers, 1975, pp. Throughout the ages, from ancient Rome and Greece to the more recent occurrences in African countries, sacrifices in the name of a god of vegetation were usual and necessary, the natives felt, for a fertile crop. SOURCE: "A Folkloristic Look at Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery,'" in Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin, Vol. Historically, folklore-in-literature research has been oriented... SOURCE: "An Old Testament Analogue for 'The Lottery,'" in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. ∗The Road through the Wall (novel) 1948The Lottery; or The Adventures of James Harris (short stories) 1949Hangsaman (novel) 1951Life among the Savages (nonfiction) 1953 †The Bird's Nest (novel) 1954Witchcraft of Salem Village (juvenile fiction) 1956Raising Demons (nonfiction) 1957The Sundial (novel) 1958The Bad Children: A Play in One Act for Bad Children (drama) 1959 ‡The Haunting of Hill House (novel) 1959We Have Always Lived in the Castle (novel) 1962 §The Magic of Jackson (short stories and novels) 1966 §Come along with Me: Part of a Novel, Sixteen Stories, and Three Lectures (short stories, novel, and lectures) 1968 ∗This work was published as The Other Side of the Street in 1956. ‡This novel served as the basis for the film The Haunting (1963), written by Nelson Gidding and directed by Robert Wise. SOURCE: "Shirley Jackson, 'The Lottery': Comment," in Modern Short Stories: A Critical Anthology, edited by Robert B. In the following essay on "The Lottery," Heilman discusses how Jackson's shift "from a realistic to a symbolic technique" intensifies the shock value of the story's ending.] Miss Jackson's story ["The Lottery"] is remarkable for the tremendous shock produced by the ending.Let us ignore the problem of meaning for the moment and see how the shock is created. Up to the last six paragraphs the story is written in the manner of a realistic transcript of small-town experience: the day is a special one, true, but the occasion is familiar, and for the most part the people are presented as going through a well-known routine.Unlike primitive peoples, however, the townspeople in "The Lottery"—insofar as they repre-sent contemporary Western society—should possess social, religious, and moral prohibitions against annual lethal stonings.Commentators variously argue that it is the very ritualization that makes the murder palatable to otherwise decent people; the ritual, and fulfilling its tradition, justifies and masks the brutality.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, argue 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. [Heilman is an English professor and the author of several works on drama, comedy, and the humanities.A few slight notes of nervousness, the talk about giving up the tradition, and the emotional outburst by Mrs.Hutchinson all suggest some not entirely happy outcome.Although everyone appears to agree that the annual lottery is important, no one seems to know when it began or what its original purpose was. Summers reads off an alphabetical list of names, the heads of each household come forward to select a folded slip of paper from an old black wooden box.Bill Hutchinson draws the paper with the black mark on it, and people immediately begin speculating about which Hutchinson will actually "win" the drawing.

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