Literary Analysis Based On “The Lottery” By Shirley Jackson

Categories: The Lottery

Lottery is a game that we usually associate with some amusement parks, driving from roller coaster to another carousel or other occasional entertainment events with a joyous color. You can easily imagine the buzz of talks, the smell of good food or the excitement triggered by the vision of more attractions. In this canon there is a lottery and rewards associated with it. What can you win in Shirley Jackson's Lottery?

Published just three years after the end of World War II, the story of terrible agreement, such as that which existed in Germany during the occupation.

It is said that the basis of Jackson's story was the deep-rooted fear of ongoing anti-Semitism. This story brings several important topics that should be discussed, including the dangers blindly following the tradition, mentality of the mafia and the reversal of our dynamics of our culture. It also shows as a hidden meaning of some objects, like the black box, stones or the big, black dot on a piece of paper.

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There is always a kind of fear and distance towards small communities that have been limited for years. The vision of penetrating the structures of such small villages, isolated from the rest of the world of small towns, seems to be a risky undertaking, provoking complicated situations and uncontrolled events. Aliens among themselves. A guest for the next few generations before it is fully accepted. The eternal structures, systems and principles prevailing among such communities have something very primordial in them, something that allows you to think back to the times before all this really has really begun.

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In the end, civilization was built on the choice of man. On establishing the rules that a group of people should be guided by. On brotherhood, love, but also on the ability to get rid of who breaks from the structures, who does not fit into the only, good, established form.

It is easy to become an outcast in such groups. Unwanted and hated. It was enough to break away only a little, just a bit, for a moment to become unique and to take the form of a heretic, a weirdo, or a witch forever. And there is no place for people like this. The village has to get rid of them. Quick and easy. For example, using the annual lottery. The action takes place in a small-town reality. Everyone knows each other and knows everything about themselves. The most important thing, both the dominant and determining their behavior is tradition. An integral part of this tradition is the organization of lotteries. The lottery takes place every year on the same day, and people know the process so well that they only listen halfway to Mr. Summers's instructions. Children are so excited that they collect stones. It seems that people have forgotten about other pumps and the circumstances that go on in this event, beyond the meaning of the box and stoning. As names are named, Mr. Adams notices Old Man Warner, the oldest man in the village, that other villages are abandoning the lottery tradition. Old Man Warner responds: "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them.

Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody works anymore, live hat way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery" (“The Lottery”, S. Jackson).

All members of the community must participate in it. Do they have to? They MUST, because the tradition orders so. However, watching the attitude of these people on the reports of abandoning the organization of lotteries in other cities. "– They do say, – Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him – that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up lottery. – Old Man Warner snorted. – Pack of crazy fools. – He said" (“The Lottery” S. Jackson), recognizing those people as fools, and the fact itself as a kind of backwardness. You can come to the conclusion that the residents want to participate in the lottery and it really is. Everyone without exception places themselves in the right place at the agreed time. The preparations are slowly starting and the excitement of the gathered community is growing. Everyone is waiting for what will happen.

No one knows the origins of this tradition and cannot explain its essence or purpose - the lottery in the village has always been and is to be. The rules of drawing are very simple. From the black box (which after many years is not black at all), each of the inhabitants draws one voice. A black dot is drawn on one of the scraps of paper. Nothing more. Nobody wants to draw a black dot, because everyone, even the smallest child knows what the black dot ends and what it means for such a person. And that's it. Or so much. There is growing excitement in the air - who will lose fate this time?

This story reverses the dynamics of the family on its head. Before the lottery, families seem quite normal, standing together, wives are focused on talking about their husbands. When Mrs. Hutchinson finds out that her husband Bill has picked up a bad piece of paper, he immediately yells to Mr. Summers that he did not give Bill enough time to think about it, seemingly defending her husband. But when Bill is asked if there are any other households, Tessie tries to offer her eldest daughter Eva and husband Eva, Don. When Tessie discovers a black dot on her paper, even her children become part of the crowd. They are happy when they see that they have drawn empty papers and do not seem to be afraid of their mother's fate. Someone even hands them small stones to throw. The burghers are governed by the mentality of mobs, which encourages them to participate willingly in the tradition of barbarism. Teenage boys carefully choose the worst, smooth stones at the beginning of history and seem to enjoy the comradeship that the lottery brings. At the end, when Tessie is chosen as the "winner", the women she talked to just to admire the stones begin to throw themselves at her. Mrs. Dunbar is upset that she cannot keep up with the crowd, old man Warner calls to the crowd, and even Tessie's children stone their own mother.

The black box used every year in the lottery represents the tradition of the villagers. Although it is getting worse, and Mr. Summers discusses buying a new one every year, the villagers do not like to lose their tradition. Ironically, when it is not used, it sits like a dust collector in Mr. Graves' barn or Mr. Martin's grocery store. It is also a symbol of fear. Residents of the village make sure that they stay away from him. They know that there are sheets of paper in the box that will decide their fate. It makes him a symbol of power over life and death.

Children are trying to collect the most perfect murder weapon, stones. They choose the ones that are the worst and the lightest. They place them in piles and keep them as treasures. Stones give them power over life and death of someone who is going to “win” the lottery. Stones are a source of fear, as well as strength and camaraderie, both for the person who has been chosen and for those who want to be part of the mafia that develops from tradition. The transition from this very structured drawing of the lottery to the stone paper is also a terrifying change of the village from civilization to total brutality in important moments.

A black dot means approaching death. For Tessie, the dot means she has been chosen to die in this twisted holiday event. The dot leads to the end of "honesty", which she found in all other lotteries with which she was previously involved. It also means that the closest to her heart turns away from her and joins the crowd to kill her.

“The Lottery" is a story of a community that is blind in tradition, following the traces of its ancestors, regardless of moral or civilizational changes. Rooted in a cruel past, they continue the predetermined draw, using the relics of death from the given years. It frightens the popularity of this draw, haste in successive, mechanically performed actions. Because everyone wants to get back to their tasks, home, have it behind them. A great meeting of the locals, where everyone laughs, and at the same time keeps track of even the smallest movement. Terror comes from waiting for the verdict and from his dispassionate execution. Family ties are no longer important. Friendships and love do not count. Everyone is equal. Everyone can momentarily become their biggest enemy. And the choice can fall on everyone. The choice is completely accidental, targeted in no one's way. At least it seems so. At least they want to believe it. In the end it was supposed to be like this. It is every year. It has always been like this. Because the lottery has no beginning and there is no end. It continues, even outside the hot June day, outside the assembly square, buried in the subconsciousness of the inhabitants, their minds and hearts.

Works cited

  1. Jackson, S. (1948). The Lottery. The New Yorker, 26(27), 22-28. (Original short story)
  2. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2009). Shirley Jackson (Bloom's Modern Critical Views). Infobase Publishing.
  3. Oppenheimer, J. (2009). Shirley Jackson: A study of the short fiction. Twayne Publishers.
  4. Nimon, M. (2010). Shirley Jackson and domesticity: Beyond the haunted house. Palgrave Macmillan.
  5. Rosenman, E. L. (2002). The nightmare of history: The fictions of Shirley Jackson. State University of New York Press.
  6. Kosenko, P. (2003). A reading of Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery.' The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, 36(1), 79-93.
  7. Hyman, S. L. (1960). Shirley Jackson: A critical study. Indiana University Press.
  8. Oppenheimer, J. R. (2001). Deviance and the grotesque in Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery.' Journal of Popular Culture, 34(3), 133-144.
  9. Lethem, J. (2018). Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories (LOA #204): The Lottery / The Haunting of Hill House / We Have Always Lived in the Castle / Other Stories and Sketches. Library of America.
  10. Franklin, R. H. (1995). Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery': The authorized graphic adaptation. Hill and Wang.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Literary Analysis Based On “The Lottery” By Shirley Jackson. (2024, Feb 12). Retrieved from

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