When one thinks of a lottery, they imagine 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, and you can’t possibly guess what the “prize” is The author foreshadows an ironic ending at the very beginning by establishing a cheerful setting.
The story occurs “around ten o’clock” on June twenty-seventh, a time of day that is very bright and joyous and a time of year that is warm and makes people feel happy. The town’s physical setting also contributes to the overall “normal” feeling of the story. The grass is described as “richly green,” and the flowers are “blossoming profusely.”
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;” every normal town has these buildings, which are essential for day-to-day functioning.
The townspeople also establish a normal, comfortable setting for the story. The children are doing what all typical kids do, playing boisterously and gathering rocks. The woman of the town are doing what all stereotypical females do, “exchang[ing] bits of gossip.” The men are being average males by chatting about boring day-to-day tasks like “planting and rain, tractors and taxes.”
Despite this comfortable and normal setting, there are hints of the town’s unusualness that foreshadow a surprise ending. For example, the lottery is being held “around ten o’clock” in the morning, which is an unusual time because in most towns all the adults would be working during mid-morning.
In addition, the author mentions a bank and post office as key buildings surrounding the town square, but what about a church or courthouse? Surely these two buildings would also be in any traditional town square! The lottery is compared to the town’s celebration of Halloween, not a joyous celebration such as Christmas or Valentine’s Day– but a rather dark, surreal, spooky, grotesque, and ominous holiday.
The reader is told that school has let out for the summer, and yet the “feeling of liberty sits uneasily” with the children- 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 great pile of stones in one corner of the square,” which is a very strange “game” for children to playing. All of these hints indicate that something strange and unexpected is going to happen, and they all make sense once we discover the story’s final outcome.
The introduction of the black box is a key turning point, 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 black box, as though they feared it. Also, when the black box is brought in, the mood and atmosphere of the residents noticeably changes. A “murmur of conversation” rolls through the crowd, and when the lottery official asks for help carrying the box, there’s a “hesitation” before two men step forward to assist him.
More and more the town’s peculiarity begins to become apparent. For example, the names of certain residents hint at the irony and unfavorable events to come. Mr. Summers- the town clerk- has a last name that strangely coincides with the time of year- summertime. A Mr. Graves helps Mr. Summers store the black box for the lottery, which eerily predicts a future resting place.
The ending of The Lottery totally contradicts the setting established by Jackson in the first paragraph. 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. The portrayal of the residents at the end of the story is quite disturbing– they go about killing the “winner” ritualistically, trying to “finish quickly.” They show no empathy at all– they’re simply following an ancient ritual.
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. (As Old Man Warner said, “There’s always been a lottery.”)
The problem is that circumstances can change and make these traditions outdated, useless, and even harmful. Think of the women trying to gain suffrage for their gender. If they had just let the tradition of only males voting continue, where would they lie in today’s society? We therefore must re-evaluate our traditions, questioning their original purpose; otherwise we’re just letting ourselves be stoned.
Courtney from Study Moose
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