This Lottery is a short story written by Shirley Jackson. It was first published in the New Yorker on June 26th 1948. The story takes place on June 27th in a small American village with a population of around 300 people. June 27th is the annual celebration of the lottery, which, in the story, takes places on the same day in nearly every city, town and village. Every person in the village has to take place in the lottery. Due to the small size of the population, the takes place in less than two hours. The townspeople gather in the town square where Mr.
Summers, the lottery official, and each head of household draws a slip of paper from an old black box. One of the characters, Tessie Hutchinson, arrives at the event at the last minute, before the drawing began. She had forgotten that it was the day of the lottery until she noticed that there was no-one else around the house. Her husband, Bill Hutchinson, draws the lottery slip with a black mark on it. This means each person in the Hutchinson household is eligible to win the lottery. However, it soon becomes clear that this lottery is one where no-one wants to be the winner.
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The situation quickly changes and Tessie begins arguing that the drawing was unfair. Things progress quickly after that. All five of members of the Hutchinson family, aside from their eldest daughter, Eva, who had married and was therefore considered to be part of another household, now draw again. When Tessie unfolds her piece of paper a black spot is found. This black spot indicates that Tessie has won the lottery. As the ‘winner’ of the lottery she is stoned to death by her friends, neighbours and family members. One of the themes used throughout the story is that of irony and the use of the unexpected.
The descriptions in the first paragraph are the complete opposite to the overall tone of the story. The day is described as being “clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. ” It gives across the impression that nothing bad could happen on such a beautiful day. The first paragraphs paint a picture of an idyllic rural area where everything seems perfect and serene. However this couldn’t be further away from the truth and as the story progresses it becomes clear that, beneath the flowers and sunshine, the village hides a dark secret.
The opening of the story serves to increase the impact the gruesome ending has on the reader. Irony is also present as the story reaches its ending, specifically when Davy Hutchinson is spared the execution on this day, and the crowd is relieved. It is clear that the townspeople believe that the murder of a mother is preferable to the murder of a young boy, even though the act in itself is completely unnecessary. Within moments of being spared his life Davy Hutchinson is handed pebbles. He is expected to take part in the murder of his mother and be involved in the same horrific ritual that he just escaped.
The older children are happy when they find out they didn’t ‘win’ the lottery, even though they know that their mother is about to die. Foreshadowing plays a large part in the story and serves to build suspense as the outcome of the lottery is slowly revealed. It gradually becomes clear that this is not an ordinary lottery and the author uses several situations to express this. As the men gather, they do not approach the pile of stones that the boys in the village have been gathering. It almost feels like no-one wants to be involved in the drawing process because when Mr.
Summers arrives with his stool, the villagers keep a distance between themselves and the drawing box. There is also no-one who wishes to help hold the box still while Mr. Summers mixes the papers. Once the drawing begins, and Mr. Adams, the first villager to draw from the box steps forward, the atmosphere is very tense. As the drawing continues, those who have already chosen a paper turn them over and over in their hands, a sign of discomfort and nervousness. When Bill Hutchinson he has drawn the paper with the black mark on it he just stands and stares down at the paper in his hand rather than being pleased he has won the lottery.
Once Tessie Hutchinson becomes angry and panicked it is clear that there is no victory involved. The way the author withholds information about the lottery from the reader until the very end of the story is a technique which moves the omniscient narrative forward. It’s the intrigue encouraging the reader to reach the end of the story. Suspense continues to build as the story progresses. The continuation of the main plot is slowed down by the rituals and duties that Mr. Summers is required to perform before the lottery can officially begin.
This part of the story is used to build tension and make the reader anticipate further events. The reader will want to find out the reasons why the characters are so nervous, giving the author an opportunity to introduce the previously mentioned foreshadowing. This means that the reader should feel just as uncomfortable as the characters in the story. As the lottery results draw closer, the townspeople begin to display uneasiness over the event. However, they are reminded by Old Man Warner, one of the older members of the community, that the lottery is tradition and that “There’s always been a lottery. The social atmosphere slowly fades and it becomes obvious that many of the villagers would prefer not be participants in the event. Yet, no-one makes their objections heard or refuses to take part in the lottery for fear that they may be judged harshly by their neighbours, even though the large majority of people in the village would probably agree with one another’s views. It’s clear that, more than anything else, these people fear change and that, right or wrong, tradition must be upheld Juxtaposition also plays a large role in the story.
Mr. Summers, the lottery official, is accompanied by Mr. Graves which creates opposing moods suggested by these two names. Mr. Summers stands, casually chatting with the other villagers, in his “clean white shirt and blue jeans, with one hand resting carelessly on the black box. ” The juxtaposition of white this close to black, and the way he is so relaxed even when standing next to the object that will shortly be responsible for the death of a villager, serves to emphasise the horror of the events to come.
Another instance of juxtaposition, and one that also highlights further irony in the story, is the use of such strict rules and ritual. It is jarring that there are such rules enforced in a ceremony in which one of the biggest rules of society, that murder is a crime and a despicable act, is abjectly violated. Figurative language is used in small amounts in the story. The black spot symbolises the most extreme kind of ostracism, which is exclusion by death. The black box that holds the slips of paper is “faded and stained,” yet it has never been replaced.
This is representative of the villager’s attitude towards the lottery. Their belief in the ritual has faded, yet no-one is prepared to suggest that they replace something that has become outdated and broken. The sheets of paper that quickly become unwanted once Bill Hutchinson finds the black spot are dropped to the ground by Mr. Graves, “where the breeze caught them and lifted them off. ” This metaphor shows the sudden change in mood of the other villagers, from terror to relief to pleasure in the discomfort of others, which is demonstrated when the villagers slowly gather up the stones. One of the characters, Mrs.
Delacroix, who had previously been extremely nervous, picks up a stone which is so heavy that she needs to use both hands to carry it. The selfishness of the individual is shown by the coldness of Tessie Hutchinson’s older children and by the villagers who all turn so quickly into her executioners. The story highlights the dangers of conformity and makes the reader think about how many of our own social practices have been, year after year, brought up as a subject for change, only to be ignored because of individuals, usually those in positions of power, sharing the same attitudes as Old Man Warner.
This conformity can have negative effects, whether it’s against an individual’s personal freedoms, against a person’s rights or against dignity. The overall moral of the story is that sometimes it just takes one person to stand up and say what is on everyone’s mind and that change and breaks in tradition can be positive and serve to create a better society to live in.