A lovely summer morning in a quiet little village, is what Shirley Jackson describes in the birth of her short story, “The Lottery (1948).” The organization of her story makes it exceptionally easy to read. The appealing imagery, that Jackson uses, sets the mood of the day and event to come. With the same imagery, she carefully decorates the setting, describes the characters, and unfolds the plot; while keeping the reader from anticipating the conflict until it is upon them.
Jackson’s organization of the story is chronological. After the introduction and description of the setting, she explains the sequence of events. The children congregate first, then the men. The women join the men, and they call the children to settle. As the event starts, the heads of each household go to remove a piece of paper from the box. Then, as they completed the first round of the lottery, each member of the winning family drew again. All of these events, so nonchalantly, were leading up to the tragic stoning of one community member.
From the image that Shirley describes of the stories setting, the reader can feel the warmth of the summer day. One can see and just about smell the flowers and grass, and can hear the children playing around as everyone in the small village gathered together. The men were discussing tractors and taxes, and the women exchanging gossip while they awaited the day’s annual event.
Mood and Characters
Mr. Summers leads the community event they call the lottery. Jackson tells us that Mr. Summers, because he has time to devote, also leads the other civic activities such as the square dances and Halloween program. Tessy Hutchinson is late to the gathering, saying that she “clean forgot what day it was (p. 259).” Mrs. Dunbar says, “I wish they’d hurry (p. 261).” Most of the characters are in good spirits; although, they are anxious to get on with the rest of their day. Nothing about the mood could lead one to believe this story may have an unpleasant ending. Even the seemingly grumpy Old Man Werner, does not provide any clues as to what will happen. He is exceedingly headstrong about the tradition, however. Especially when the Adams attempt to discuss other village’s doing away with the lottery. Even the complaints from Tessy, when her husband draws the winning paper, did not change the mood of the story or the villagers.
From the mood set in the story, the village’s tradition of the Lottery seems like it may be something enjoyable. The conflict comes about when Tessy begins to complain about her families unfair selection and then her own. Then one may start to get the impression this may not be fun. I wondered what could be so miserable they needed a lottery to determine the winner, or loser in this case. Is she going to be forced to be the village mortician or have to care for the village idiot or leper for the year? Then in almost the last sentence, when the villagers surround Tessy and the first stone hit her in the head, holding her hands out desperately screaming, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right (p. 264).” Only then does Jackson make it clear that the prize won from the lottery is fatal.
It is extremely difficult to read about a lovely community involved in such a tragic tradition. Shirley Jackson’s charming imagery of the setting and mood lures the reader through this shocking story. Overall, I think Jackson has done splendid work writing about such a horrific event. A story most people would not finish if they knew in the beginning that someone would be stoned to death by the entire community.
Jackson, S. (1948). The Lottery. In X. J. Kennedy, D. M. Kennedy, & M. F. Muth, The Bedford Guide for College writers (pp. 257-264). Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin.
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