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“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson Essay

The short story, “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson is one pf the most shocking stories I have ever read. It caused controversy when it was published in a New York newspaper and for good reason. The ending is very unsettling and I would even categorize it as a horror story. The picture the story paints prepares you for the exact opposite of what actually happens, making this a confusing, yet unforgettable story. It is hard to figure out what the message is in this story. Starting from the beginning there are many things one must notice upon a second reading. Subtle symbolism is used in a genius manner so that only on a second reading can the reader understand what the author is doing in every paragraph she writes. Throughout the story we are never sure about what exactly this lottery is, which keeps the reader in suspense.

The story begins with a cheerful mood. It is summertime in a small town of 300 people. Every character comes off as friendly and full of positive energy. Jackson sets the scene for a beautiful day by describing growing flowers and beautiful grass. The reader is reeled into a peaceful mood and becomes comfortable in “knowing” this is peaceful story. The only confusion in the beginning is when the children are gathering stones and making piles of them. The reader may indicate the children will be throwing the stones, yet in a childlike playful manner and no violent premonitions can be made due to the peaceful setting counteracting and overpowering any violent thoughts. The interaction between characters is 100% friendliness.

The story informs us that everybody in town is gathering at the town square, which is located between a post office and a bank. At first this means nothing extraordinary until you realize that no other buildings are mentioned. No courts or police stations, which are usually found in a towns square, are mentioned. No mentions of authority whatsoever except for Mr. Summers, who runs the yearly lottery. It is also interesting how we are informed that he runs a Halloween program, which is known for trickery, yet no other holidays are mentioned.

The mood of the story seems to take a turn when we learn about the villager’s reaction to the black box that holds the lottery slips. They seem to be nervous around the box. Once the “winner” was found, we notice his reaction is not a good one. Then we read on to find that the villagers will throw stones at the “winner” until they kill him. This is done so casually that it creates an eerie feeling as we read how the villagers surround the victim and prepare to kill him. The story ends there.

“The Lottery” is definitely an interesting tale by Shirley Jackson. But what is she implying by this story? Surely she didn’t write this ending because she felt it was cool. There is a not so obvious message we must analyze. My conclusion leads me to believe that this is a story about tradition. The villagers follow tradition without even knowing why the tradition exists. In the story, Old Man Warner states, “‘There’s always been a lottery’ he said petulantly.” In this statement, the reader sees the most ignorant of all excuses for doing anything. This, however, seems normal for the community. The reader then discovers ‘”That much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations.'”

While reading, the reader starts to understand the lottery tradition from which many rules and regulations disappeared for convenience reasons. This leads the reader to believe that the villagers do not truly understand the origins of the lottery. Mrs. Jackson states ‘”The people had done the lottery so many times that they only half listed to the directions?'” In this passage, the reader learns through the nonchalant ness of the villager’s actions that an important event does not gander much attention. They kill the victim simply because its tradition.

To put it simply, the author is trying to say that you shouldn’t do things simply because others have done them. There may be a better way of doing things. I think she is implying that traditions found across the globe may be foolish at times and people should think logically and not do things simply because they were born doing it, like the baby who is handed stones, yet to make sense out of things, and discard those which do not make much sense. This is a strong message in today’s society where “tradition” may cause destruction and hate amongst human beings. I could be wrong, but if I am correct, those who read should learn a powerful lesson and take a look at their beliefs and make the right change.

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