The famous short story The Lottery, written by the American writer Shirley Jackson was published in 1948 in The New Yorker. The work caused a great stir among the population that still not recovered from the sufferings of World War II (Sar and Pradika 2). The feeling of anxiety, masterfully created with the help of contrasts, captures the readers’ attention and turns into horror at the end of the story. The Lottery is filled with symbols and raises many acute social themes. The writer demonstrates that despite the moral values people may have, society’s pressure and a sense of impunity can push them to any inhuman act.
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The author’s most effective techniques to create a sense of horror from events taking place in the story are the choice of words and the tone of the narrative. The story is written in the third person – the narrator describes only events and not the characters’ feelings or thoughts. Jackson chose a detached tone, she is calm, and this gesture further emphasizes the incident’s horror. To achieve the effect, the writer uses contrasts and words deepening the readers’ feelings.
The very name The Lottery makes them expect a story about the happy winner. Moreover, the narration begins with a description of a sunny day in a small village – people gather, and it seems that the holiday is about to begin. The fact that Jackson was able to cause doubt and concern while creating a sense of expectation of the holiday makes this work so significant.
The contrasts between the bright nature and the events taking place are expressed in the choice of words. For example, the beginning of the story describes “the fresh warmth of a full-summer day,” and the commonplace is emphasized by talks about “planting and rain, tractors and taxes” (Jackson). Later, the word “nervously” appears several times, and readers may wonder why people are worried. One of the sentences combines the familiarity of a lottery and anxiety at the same time: “The people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions; most of them were quiet, wetting their lips, not looking around” (Jackson). Thus, the stressful expressions first appear only occasionally, but gradually their number increases.
Several topics stand out in the story, most of which are relevant now. However, some of them can be assessed as an attempt to look at World War II events. The first theme is traditions and customs, which are part of human culture. Holding a lottery is a traditional ritual to improve the crop, but most of its elements were forgotten and lost – a black box with surnames is remade, a man’s speech is changed. However, since “There’s always been a lottery,” even the partially lost meaning of the ritual does not prevent the villagers from conducting it (Jackson). A critical view of such a cruel tradition calls into question all the customs that exist in society.
Other topics that make readers look at society differently are families and the human nature. In preparation for the lottery, a roll call is carefully carried out. Simultaneously, a strict division among families and clarification of the hierarchy within them stand out. For example, the father is responsible for the whole family, the second most important position is the eldest son, and the daughters belong to their husbands’ families (Jackson). However, when the “winner” is chosen, her family members do not protect her but become united with society. At this moment, human nature and cruelty manifest themselves – following the crowd and feeling impunity, everyone takes part in the ritual murder. The analysis of human nature and violence is related to another theme – the Holocaust during the war.
Much post-war literature is devoted to rethinking cruel events, but everything is not so apparent in The Lottery. The very contrast between the beginning of the day and subsequent events’ violence already demonstrates the difference between peace and war. However, the topic of choosing certain people to target them with cruelty is echoed in an attempt to show the inhumanity of the Holocaust (Robinson 1). The officers who participated in the Jewish people’s extermination were also guided by the lack of responsibility for their crimes and followed the crowd’s actions.
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The themes of the work and the general atmosphere are also revealed through the use of symbols. The most obvious symbol of the story is a black dot on the sheet, as a black mark destroys the last hopes for a happy ending. The lottery itself hides human cruelty and fear behind traditions. The villagers are afraid not to follow the custom, but at the same time, use it to quench their bloodthirstiness. The choice of stones for the murder and the act itself returns them to primitive, uncivilized times. Perhaps the rocks and the old black box’s constant use connect the crowd of villagers with their ancestors. Thus, symbols enhance the impression from the story and help analyze the topics raised.
In conclusion, The Lottery is a short story striking readers with the horror of human actions when they do not feel responsible for their actions. A powerful effect is achieved due to the narrative’s tone and the choice of words that increase anxiety when bringing readers closer to the outcome. The story raises the themes of traditions and customs, family relations, and human nature, which echoes the attempt to comprehend the Holocaust. The writer also uses symbols – stones, a black box, a black dot, and the lottery itself.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The New Yorker. 1948. Web.
Robinson, Michael. “Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Holocaust Literature.” Humanities, vol. 8, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1-20.
Sari, Fani Alfionita, and Ajar Pradika Ananta Tur. “Reshaping the Society Face through The Culture of Horror Told in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.” NOTION: Journal of Linguistics, Literature, and Culture, vol. 1, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1-7.