The Unwanted Lottery
The Lottery is a short artwork that can be regarded as a remarkable representative of the world literature. It is worth noting that its author, Shirley Jackson, constantly has been shocking readers with her impressive works that often contained violent and bloody scenes (Oppenheimer 18). The narrative tells about an annual lottery in a small town, where all dwellers are bound by the old tradition. Each citizen participated in the lottery aiming to choose one person who would be cruelly stoned to death by his or her family members and the villagers. In her short narrative, Jackson hides the true meaning of the story behind ironic depiction of community and comic pictures. The Lottery transports the reader into the fiction world, where characters undergo the influence of their environment and society. Shirley Jackson describes a clear picture of society and how it may easily impact its members. Thus, heroes of Jackson's short story remain under the influence of what has taken place around them. Moreover, characters' attitude towards their lives is affected by the circumstances of their miserable existence. Therefore, skillfully using irony, Shirley Jackson depicts the demolishing impact of the society and its customs on the people's life.
In Jackson's story, the word 'lottery' usually meaning something good (everybody knows that the main target of the entertainment is to win a particular prize) acquires ironic color. However, gradually the reader becomes confused because the interpretation of the word 'lottery' is different from the conventional one. In the story, the entertainment results not in the winning of some nice prize but the loss of the human life. The winner of the lottery is not a lucky person but the real doomed victim of the tradition. Thereby, the writer titled her short story The Lottery not by chance – she created an intrigue and kept the reader alert. In addition, the difference between the outcome of the story and readers’ expectations is the irony between a favorable lottery and dismal death. The ironic title of the story demonstrates that although the lottery is supposed to be something conventionally good, it is actually a personification of evil.
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At the same time, the thoughtless and blind adherence to outdated customs can be considered the main theme of The Lottery. In the story, the villagers conduct the terrible annual ritual that ends with a violent murder for a long time, “There’s always been a lottery” (Jackson 4). Moreover, the fact that people know little about the origin of the lottery, but still preserve the traditions of their ancestors makes them even more ignorant and outdated. Such depiction of villagers strengthens author's irony and criticism of society even further (Nebeker 101). According to Jackson, “Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones” (7). Although the villagers consider themselves civilized people, they still follow the barbaric tradition. In The Lottery, people showed themselves powerless to change long-established order. Therefore, compliance to the tradition was the only justification for the ritual murder performed. Additionally, Jackson demonstrated that people can forget about their traditions, but they never forget about the pleasure and entertainment, which they value more than the ritual. Thus, the author criticized human nature depicting the people of tradition, who neglect their tradition lead by intuitive choice.
Furthermore, Jackson describes a warm summer day in postwar New York. The plot unfolds in the American village on the very pleasant day, “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” (Jackson 116). The lovely description of the summer day, weather, and place makes it hard to imagine that such sunny day could have so gloomy and barbaric ending. Thus, nothing in the story foreshadows any act of violence such as a ritual murder. Indeed, the setting of The Lottery greatly affects its characters. For instance, a traditional ritual depicted in the story is performed almost for seventy-seven-years. The annual lottery takes place among disturbing piles of stones gathered by all citizens of the villages, which metaphorically symbolize violence (Griffin 45). At the same time, the people even involve innocent children into the violent act – they enthusiastically collect stones for the final scene of the lottery (Friedman 59). Thus, instead of openly expressing abhorrence towards the lottery, people continue to follow the custom and sacrifice their lives.
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As the plot of the story unfolds, the greater influence of violent tensions becomes evident. In The Lottery, people follow the tradition despite its cruelty and absurdity. Although the ritual of the lottery is brutal, the dwellers of the village do not see how barbaric it is. Thereby, the tensions grow when the lottery begins and every citizen is awaiting its end. The climactic moment of the story appears when the reader discovers that Tess Hutchinson is a winner. However, the more mysterious and strange fact is that she does not agree with the result. It becomes obvious that the prize of the lottery is not something rewarding – it is a manifestation of the pure evil. Therefore, The Lottery depicts the mistreatment and depreciation of human life. Furthermore, the mysterious amorality of the Jackson's story reaches its apogee when the result of the committed act becomes obvious. The Lottery ends with villagers' attack on Mrs. Hutchinson, who is screaming “it isn't fair, it isn't right” (Jackson 146). However, Tessie had nothing to say against the town's tradition until she was faced to make a sacrifice. Mrs. Hutchinson makes attempts to struggle against the cruel custom, but other townspeople ignore her protests and blindly follow the ritual (Yarmove 244). However, the violent death of the winner is a rewarding prize of the annual lottery. Obviously, Mrs. Hutchinson did not receive something good – instead of the prize she lost her life.
In addition, Jackson showed how vulnerable position of a woman used to be. The women in the short story are represented as ordinary villagers controlled by their husbands. Men in the narrative have a key role – they take leading positions in the lottery, they discuss important themes, while women have “exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands” (Jackson 1). In the story, women can be regarded as victims of male power – they control every aspect of women's lives. Thus, women have to obey their husbands and follow the outdated customs. In addition to criticism of the society and its old-fashioned traditions, Jackson condemned the established order of the community. In fact, the writer opposed to the conventional thought about the male dominance, and The Lottery is a perfect representation of the author's beliefs.
In conclusion, The Lottery can be observed as a chronicle of senseless violence and absurd destruction carried out by careless, barbaric, and thoughtless people. In her short story, Shirley Jackson attempted to awaken the masses towards human ignorance and cruelty. The ironic depiction of the lottery as something rewarding represents an important message about inhumanity and people's cruelty. Initially beginning as a pretty pleasant short story, The Lottery ended with the tragedy – a ritual murder that greatly shocked the reader. Therefore, Jackson's narrative can be considered the hideous depiction of society that demonstrates its destructive influence on people and their deeds.