Climax, Mood, and Themes in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

Categories: The Lottery


"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson stands as one of the most renowned American short stories, initially published in the June 26, 1948, issue of The New Yorker. This captivating tale, penned in the same month as its publication, has earned its place in the annals of American literature as one of the most famous short stories. Its enduring presence in the curricula of preparatory schools and universities speaks to its cultural significance. Jackson's narrative evokes strong reactions; while some admire its depth, others find it unsettling.

This essay explores the story's climactic elements, mood, and themes, delving into its complexity and thought-provoking messages.

The Climax: A Shocking Turn of Events

In literature, the climax represents the pinnacle of emotional intensity within a narrative. In "The Lottery," the climax is undeniably a shocking and disturbing one. It transpires when the selected lottery winner is stoned to death by the very community members she knows and loves. As the stones rain down upon her, the eyes of the once-familiar faces contort with jealousy and cruelty.

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The chilling moment reaches its zenith when someone in the crowd impatiently urges, "Hurry up!" Such a brutal climax underscores the story's profound exploration of the darker aspects of human nature and the dangers of blindly adhering to tradition.

One particularly harrowing detail is the active participation of the victim's own family, including her own son, who, despite his pitiful expression, is handed a stone and compelled to join in the fatal punishment. This shocking turn of events serves as a stark reminder of the story's underlying themes and the consequences of unchecked conformity to societal norms.

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The Mood: A Stark Contrast

While the weather, surroundings, and background in the story may exude an outwardly sunny and clear ambiance, the mood within the narrative is anything but cheerful. Mood, in literature, refers to the emotional atmosphere that pervades a story. Despite the seemingly idyllic setting, the process of selecting the sacrificial victim is shrouded in an eerie and unsettling silence.

This juxtaposition between the picturesque backdrop and the grim proceedings creates a dissonance that lingers throughout the narrative. The sunny weather serves as a stark contrast to the actions of the village inhabitants. The result is a mood of palpable tension and discomfort, which heightens as the story progresses toward its horrifying climax.

A notable and unsettling aspect is the involvement of children in the ritualistic murder. This inclusion adds an extra layer of complexity to the mood, challenging the reader's assumptions about innocence and the influence of tradition. It prompts us to question the extent to which societal norms can override basic human compassion, even among the youngest members of the community.

The Theme: A Complex Message

The theme of "The Lottery" is multifaceted and invites interpretation. Initially, the title might mislead readers into expecting a positive outcome, but the story subverts this expectation entirely. The lottery's winner meets a tragic end, stoned to death by those she trusts and loves.

The story's inherent irony lies in the fact that the term "lottery" typically conveys the notion of luck and fortune. However, in this chilling narrative, winning the lottery equates to a death sentence. This irony is central to Jackson's message, urging readers to look beyond appearances and question the consequences of blindly following tradition.

The story serves as a cautionary tale, illustrating the dangers of adhering to wrongheaded customs and rituals. The community's willingness to sacrifice an innocent person for the sake of tradition underscores the potential for collective cruelty and the need for cultural evolution.

While the narrative may be challenging to comprehend due to its disconcerting climax and serious mood, it encourages readers to consider the implications of societal conformity and the capacity for cruelty within seemingly ordinary communities.


"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson remains a thought-provoking and impactful piece of American literature. Its shocking climax, unsettling mood, and complex themes challenge readers to confront uncomfortable truths about human nature and society. Jackson's narrative serves as a stark reminder that blind conformity to tradition can lead to dire consequences.

The story's enduring relevance lies in its capacity to provoke discussion and introspection. By subverting expectations and defying the conventional notions associated with a "lottery," Jackson urges us to question appearances, challenge harmful customs, and prioritize the values of compassion and humanity over mindless tradition.

In the end, "The Lottery" serves as a stark warning, reminding us that the true lottery of life should never involve sacrificing the innocent for the sake of tradition.

Updated: Oct 31, 2023
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Climax, Mood, and Themes in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery". (2017, Feb 10). Retrieved from

Climax, Mood, and Themes in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" essay
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