Tradition and Foreshadowing in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

Categories: Shirley Jackson

Traditions handed down through generations often lack societal significance, perpetuated more out of fear than genuine understanding. In a quaint village, an annual ritual known as "The Lottery" randomly designates an individual for stoning by the entire community. Shirley Jackson skillfully blends foreshadowing and a seemingly benevolent tone to both veil and unveil the shocking conclusion of the story.

The Deceptive Benevolence of Tone

Jackson's crafty use of a benevolent tone initially lulls readers into a false sense of security, masking the irony that unfolds.

The story opens with a description of the setting as "clear," "warm," and "sunny," conjuring images of a tranquil day. The villagers gather, and children engage in innocent play, portraying a community seemingly devoid of inhibitions or concerns.

The Lottery is cleverly presented as a civic activity, akin to "square dances," "teen clubs," and "the Halloween program." By associating it with other community events, Jackson positions the lottery as a seemingly positive and communal undertaking. Moreover, the term "lottery" itself carries connotations of luck and fortune, further misdirecting readers into assuming positive outcomes.

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Through these strategic choices, Jackson establishes a comforting ambiance, concealing the ominous reality that awaits.

Foreshadowing the Unveiling

While maintaining the comforting tone, Jackson subtly foreshadows the story's shocking conclusion. As families assemble, the men's laughter is replaced by quiet jokes and smiles, indicating an underlying discomfort. Mr. Summers' call for assistance in setting up the lottery props is met with "hesitation," a momentary pause that raises questions about the nature of the task at hand.

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Notably, Mr. Adams mentions the neighboring "north village" contemplating abandoning their own lottery. The mere consideration of relinquishing a long-standing tradition hints at the potential malevolence of the lottery. Jackson strategically weaves these subtle cues into the narrative, inviting readers to question the true nature of the ritual unfolding before them.

Unraveling the Enigma

As the story progresses, the amalgamation of foreshadowing and a comforting tone gradually unravels, revealing the dark reality of "The Lottery." Jackson intricately places hints, such as the uneasy behavior of the villagers, to expose the true nature of the tradition. The seemingly positive civic activity transforms into a ritualistic sacrifice, challenging the reader's preconceived notions.

By combining literary techniques, Jackson crafts a narrative that captivates the reader's imagination. The initial concealment heightens the impact of the revelation, prompting reflection on the dangers of blindly adhering to tradition. In doing so, Jackson not only delivers a shocking conclusion but also imparts a thought-provoking commentary on the consequences of unquestioning conformity.


Through the marriage of a deceivingly benevolent tone and subtle foreshadowing, Shirley Jackson masterfully conceals and reveals the true essence of "The Lottery." The seemingly idyllic village setting and the association with positive civic activities create a facade that shrouds the ritual's darker implications. As readers navigate the narrative, the carefully placed hints and uncomfortable undertones gradually expose the unsettling reality, leaving an indelible mark on their perception of tradition and societal rituals.

Updated: Dec 29, 2023
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Tradition and Foreshadowing in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery". (2016, Sep 13). Retrieved from

Tradition and Foreshadowing in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" essay
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