“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson starts with us being informed that a gathering for a lottery is happening. The boys are gathering rocks and the girls are standing aside. The men soon gathered along with the women. We are introduced to Mr. Summers, the man who we see has a big role in this town, and is in charge of the event taking place. He is carrying a black box that carries the slips of paper that replaced the wood chips that used to be used. Mr. Summers makes a list before they can start and Mr. Summers is sworn in. There had been some other traditions that used to be done before that everybody had forgotten. After that, Mrs. Hutchinson hurried arrives chatting briefly with Mrs. Delacroix before heading to the front where her family was standing, after that Mr. Summers asks if anybody is absent and after confirming Dunbar’s absence he asks who will draw for him, to which Mrs. Dunbar responds she will. Mr. Summers confirms that there is no older son who could do it for him and he also confirms that the Watson boy was drawing that year and that Old Man Warner was present. The lottery begins and the men slowly get called up in alphabetical order and the people start talking about how other towns have abandoned the lottery and Old Man Warner talks condescendingly about those towns, wanting to keep tradition. They all get slips and everybody starts to question who has the slip. Bill Hutchinson has it and Mrs. Hutchinson gets agitated because she thinks it wasn’t a fair draw. Tessie protests as Bill is very willingly responding to Mr. Summers questions. He dumps out the rest leaving in only 5 slips. The Hutchinsons pull out their slips and when everyone but Tessie have opened their slips, Bill put up her slip that had a pencil mark on it. They all went to the pile of stones the children had made before. They started to stone Tessie as she screamed.
The chronic tension for “The Lottery” is the nature of the Lottery itself. They mention throughout the story that the deadly Lottery’s traditions were changing or disappearing, and the Lottery itself was disappearing in some villages. Each character seems to have differing opinions on this, and the reader can sense the tension from these past events influencing the present in the story.
The acute tension of “The Lottery” is the Lottery that happened the day the story took place. It propels the characters to undertake certain actions and behave in peculiar, defensive ways. Throughout, the characters are on edge, and their dialogue increasingly shows it as the nature of the Lottery is revealed to the reader.
What Got Ivan’s Attention:
This story was so good because of the complete reversal the story takes. The word “lottery” has a positive connotation to it, but Shirley Jackson flips the word on its head. She expertly manipulates the reader and, without ever outright saying it, reveals that the Lottery is something evil, something despicable. I absolutely adore how Shirley Jackson did it, through subtle dialogue and description
What Ivan Would Imitate:
I would imitate how Shirley Jackson creates her characters. She introduces characters quickly, with a small physical description, and she lets the characters explain themselves through dialogue. Old Man Warner does this especially well, letting the reader realize his ideals and mindset about the Lottery and life in general. Additionally, how Shirley Jackson creates such tension through moderate language is wonderful, and I’d love to learn from it.
The two techniques tracked were characterization, through dialogue or description, and how the conflict escalates through dialogue. These two techniques were picked because they showcase how the plot was developed throughout the story and how Shirley Jackson expertly shows and does not tell.
When Shirley Jackson characterizes, she paints with a broad brush. She indicates only the faintest parts of a person’s personality, leaving the reader with enough to work out the characters but not much more. This keeps the reader intrigued, and the vagueness of the characters works hand in hand with the escalation of the plot.
In specific, Old Man Warner goes on and on when he speaks, revealing his positive view on the Lottery and his stereotypical “back-in-my-day” personality. He says,
‘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 work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’
His disdain for the “young folks” is evident and his trust in the Lottery is adamant. He also mentions that this is his seventy-seventh Lottery, showing his age.
The second technique tracked was the escalation of the acute tension/conflict through dialogue. The conversations held between characters can be said to be a product of their nerves. The adults speak in clipped, colloquial terms, intensifying as the Lottery begins taking place. The main way Jackson shows how the Lottery is evil is through the character’s speech.
To illustrate, Tessie contributes most to this escalation. As soon as she realizes her family has been picked, she provides verbal outcry again and again till the villagers. What she repeats, almost a mantra, is:
‘It isn’t fair!’
She says this as she realizes she has been picked for the Lottery, a broken record as the villagers turn on her.
Another prime example of Jackson’s expert intensification is Mr. Summers, the cold yet social administrator of the lottery. He continuously asks formal questions, poking and prodding. The answers that he forces out keep the story going, and he adds a slightly bureaucratic undertone to the whole affair with questions like,
“‘Bill,’ he said,’you draw for the Hutchinson family. You got any other households in the Hutchinsons?’”
and continuous worrying phrases that leave the reader’s mind moving such as
Someone said, ‘Don’t be nervous, Jack,’ …
Mr. Summers said ‘Take your time, son,’ ….
With phrases like this, Shirley Jackson keeps the story moving while also providing an illusion of safety and security with such phrases as “Take your time,” the undertone meaning to hurry up.
- Why did Shirley Jackson never go into depth on most character’s personalities?
- How did the reversal of the Lottery add to the story?
What Got Esmeralda’s Attention: I really liked the foreshadowing and how it escalated from a fairly innocent event to a dark and brutal persecution. It was very ambiguous and subtle how she gradually flipped the story on its head effectively.
What Esmeralda Would Imitate: I would imitate how the author uses details that seems meaningless or seem to have little to nothing to do with the main plot and use it later in a way that is very involved with the plot. I also would like use dialogue to escalate the plot.
I commend the authors use of metaphor to give meaning to the events that take place in the story.
Esmeralda’s Techniques: The two techniques i tracked were theme and how the setting of the world is shown through exposition. I chose these two techniques because they help have a more well rounded look on the story.
When Shirley uses exposition, she explains this world very vaguely but effectively in a way. You can tell there is a bigger world than the one she shows us in the story. The mentioning of other villages and forgotten rituals gives us a peek into the world surrounding the story.
“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 the lottery.”
We also see a specific date that follows tradition: “The morning of June 27th.”
Transitioning into tradition, that is one of the themes in this story, or more specifically the lack of wanting to abandon tradition. Old Man Warner clearly displays a clear distaste for other villages abandoning the lottery:
Old Man Warner snorted. “Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “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 work any more, live that 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,” he added petulantly. “Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody.”
“Some places have already quit lotteries.” Mrs. Adams said.
“Nothing but trouble in that,” Old Man Warner said stoutly. “Pack of young fools.”
It also leans a lot into the traditional “patriarchal mentality” where the men have all the power in the society. We see the women being submissive to their husbands and even when they are not they are still expected to do so, Mrs. Dunbar for example:
“Me. I guess,” a woman said. and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. “Wife draws for her husband.” Mr. Summers said. “Don’t you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?” Although Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village knew the answer perfectly well, it was the business of the official of the lottery to ask such questions formally. Mr. Summers waited with an expression of polite interest while Mrs. Dunbar answered.
“Horace’s not but sixteen yet.” Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. “Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year.
- Shirley explored tradition and how some of it could be dangerous, did she use the theme of dangerous tradition effectively? Why or why not?
- How could have explaining the whole world of the story have affected the story? If anywhere, where would it have been the most impactful for the author to expand our knowledge of the world?
Aanisah’s Techniques Tracked:
- How dialogue assists the setting
- Escalation in the story
Even without the description of the town, the dialogue alone would give you an idea of where the story is taking place. The image this dialogue creates of a small town with a farm, pies baking on the windowsill and laundry pinned on a clothesline. It serves to only add to the authenticity of the setting. The first piece of dialogue from Mrs. Hutchinson is a saying that is only used without irony by someone who has grown up in a southern setting.
“Clean forgot what day it was,” she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly.
Other pieces of dialogue describe the setting itself directly. Another line from Mrs. Hutchinson when she is telling Mrs. Delacroix how she forgot the event taking place today is an example of this.
“Thought my old man was out back stacking wood,”
Dialogue such as this also helps make the climax of the story even more chilling given the casualness in which it is delivered. The first line of the starts of by saying that the day is warm and sunny with blooming flowers and fresh, green grass which garners the assumption that the story won’t be hectic or the tension will build up slowly.
“The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.”
But from the very beginning, the whole town was very much aware of the climax that was going to take place and merely saw it as another aspect of life while a reader would consider it horrific and is not prepared for the stoning of Tessie and how the townspeople think about it. They treat it as an event that all towns are expected to have and not the taking of a human being’s life. They even give the Hutchinsons’ young son, Davy, a few pebbles to throw at his own mother. The story has an air of nonchalance and laughter which only changes when the Hutchinsons’ name is pulled from the black box and Tessie begins to shout that the drawing wasn’t fair. This abrupt escalation puts a shock into readers.
- Why do you think that the Lottery became a tradition?
- Could the town eventually get rid of the Lottery?