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Critical analysis of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson Essay

Overall Shirley Jackson discusses the movement of the setting, the unusual foreshadowing, and the outermost symbolism in “The Lottery” to give an overall point of view of the story.

Even though a small village made seem peaceful, and a good place to raise a family, it is not always what it seems to be. The reader is about to enter a world with ritualistic ceremony and religious orthodoxy in “The Lottery.”

The Lottery takes place on a clear and sunny summer morning around June 27 in a small village with about three hundred villagers gathering together in the central square for the annual lottery. As a child Shirley Jackson was interested in writing; she won a poetry prize at age twelve, and in high school she keeps a diary to record her writing progress. In 1937 she entered Syracuse University, where she published stories in the student literary magazine. Despite her busy life as a wife and a mother of four children, she wrote every day on a disciplined schedule. “The Lottery” is one of Jackson’s best-known works. In “The Lottery” Shirley Jackson will discusses the movement of the setting, unusual foreshadowing and outermost symbolism to give us an overall point of view from the story.

When one thinks of a lottery, one imagines winning a large sum of money. Shirley Jackson uses the setting in “The Lottery” to foreshadow an ironic ending. The peaceful and tranquil town described in this story has an annual lottery every June 27 early part of 1800’s in a small village with 300 people (456). Setting is to describe time and place of the story. The story occurs “around ten o’clock” (456). This is an unusual time because in most towns all the adults would be working during mid-morning. In the lottery an ironic ending is also foretold by the town’s setting being described as one of normalcy. The town square is described as being “between the post office and the bank” (456). Every normal town has these buildings, which are essential for day-to-day functioning. Throughout the story little parts of setting are being told, to give a clearer picture for a better understanding of the story.

Jackson foreshadows a surprise ending. Foreshadowing is to hint of something that would follow with the story. As the story continues the reader is told that school has let out for the summer, and yet the “feeling of liberty sits uneasily with the children” (456), which is strange, for no normal kid would be anything less than ecstatic over summer break. Finally, the children are said to be building “a pile of stones in one corner of the square” (456), which is a very strange game for children to play. All of these hints indicate that something strange and unexpected is going to happen, and they all will make sense once we discuss the story’s final outcome.

Symbolism is also a strong element of the story. The introduction of the black box carried by Mr. Summer (456) is a key turning point showing symbolism, which is anything in a story that represents something else, giving the awful ominous answers to all those foreshadowing hints. When the black box is brought in, it’s said to be a tradition that no one liked to upset. The villagers kept their distance from the box, as though they feared it (461). More and more the town’s peculiarity begins to become apparent. For an example, the names of certain residents hit at the irony and unfavorable events to come. From the author’s extravagant detailing of the town, one would expect this “lottery” to be a chance for one lucky family to win some money. Instead, the winner’s “prize” is death-by stoning In the story Tessie won the prize when Bill, her husband, forced the paper out of her hand (461). The portrayal of the residents at the end of the story is disturbing–they go about killing the “winner” ritualistically, trying to “finish quickly.” (461). They show no empathy at all–they’re simply following an ancient ritual.

Overall Shirley Jackson discusses the movement of the setting, the unusual foreshadowing, and the outermost symbolism in “The Lottery.” The lesson in this story hits pretty hard. The Lottery’s relationship to real life is that sometimes we are presented with traditions that have been adhered to for as long as anyone can remember, and we forget the reason these customs were created in the first place. The problem is that circumstances can change and make these traditions outdated, useless, and even harmful. Overall the main point of the story is that ignorant and indulgent believers can bring death to an innocent person, so therefore we must re-evaluate our traditions; otherwise we’re just letting ourselves be stoned.

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