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Narration in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

Introduction

Numerous various texts exist in the world, representing different characters, ideas, and issues. Often, those texts address troublesome but significant topics, widely discussed in public. One such example is Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery. First published in 1948, the text describes a small fictional village and one of its annual rituals (Ismael & Ali, 2018). The Lottery raises a question of the significance of the story behind the text and requires conducting an analysis, as the presented narration is rather open for interpretation.

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Overview

To begin with, one should summarize the story of the text to explain its meaning. The Lottery is told in third-person narration and is set on a summer day when the residents of a small village gather for the Lottery (Jackson, 1948). The first paragraphs describe the people, introducing several characters, among whom is Mr. Summers, who usually manages the village’s events, including the Lottery (Jackson, 1948).

While representatives of each family, mostly men, take pieces of paper from a box to participate in the Lottery, a conversation happens between the village’s oldest person, Old Man Warner, and a resident, Mr. Adams (Jackson, 1948). Mr. Adams tells the old man that some villages are quitting the Lottery, and Old Man Warner replies by criticizing young people and stating that “there’s always been a lottery” (Jackson, 1948, para. 15). Old Man Warner has participated in seventy-six lotteries and is about to be a part of yet another one (Jackson, 1948). For many years, people from different villages have witnessed the Lottery, but some from the younger generation do not desire to continue doing so.

As the narration progresses, the text finally reveals the purpose of the Lottery. The man who gets the marked piece of paper is named Bill Hutchinson, and he calmly accepts the fact that he is selected, but his wife, Tessie, protests against the unfairness (Jackson, 1948). However, nobody listens to Tessie, and their family, including three children, are each offered to take other pieces of paper from the box (Jackson, 1948). This time, the person with the marked one is Tessie, who keeps saying, “it isn’t fair” (Jackson, 1948, para. 30). However, no one pays attention to her words, but all, from children to adults, grub stones and throw them at Tessie (Jackson, 1948). For many years, people in different villages annually gathered for the Lottery to casually select a resident to be murdered by others.

The Meaning

Next, there is a need to analyze the meaning of the text, which can be done by answering the question of whether the text or the story matters. When The Lottery was first published, the public’s response was characterized by confusion and anger (Paramitha, 2021). Such emotions were oriented towards the story rather than the text due to its outcomes (Paramitha, 2021). The early readers in the USA perceived the story as a criticism of their society and protested against the unrealistic representation of their lives (Ismael & Ali, 2018). Moreover, the story shows differences between social classes, with those in higher positions being more confident in their actions (Paramitha, 2021).

One can conclude that the story matters because of how it represents society and what reactions such representation evokes. Furthermore, the text itself also matters due to the way it is structured. The text starts the story in a positive tone, describing ordinary moments from life, but then changes to showing darker aspects of society (Nugraha & Mahdi, 2020). The story matters because of the public’s responses, whereas the text matters due to the way it tells the story.

Telling the Story

The Lottery is narrated in the third person and represents various characters, but not all of those characters get to tell their sides of the story. Mr. Summers and Tessie Hutchinson can be distinguished as examples of one person to whom the villagers listen and another person whom the people ignore (Paramitha, 2021). As Mr. Summers conducted most of the events in the village, he is portrayed in a higher and more powerful social position than others (Paramitha, 2021). Although the narration reveals that people felt sorry for Mr. Summers for not having children, he is a local business owner respected by society (Jackson, 1948; Paramitha, 2021).

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On the other hand, Tessie Hutchinson is a simple married woman who raises her children and is so busy managing the household that she even forgets that the Lottery is taking place (Jackson, 1948). Throughout the story, Tessie is shown not to be taken seriously by the villagers, who occasionally laugh at her (Jackson, 1948). From the beginning, Mr. Summers is shown to be highly esteemed by people, whereas Tessie is portrayed as a person of lesser importance.

The way Mr. Summers gets to tell his side of the story is opposed to the ways Tessie does not in both their words and actions. Research suggests that the author’s choice of certain words demonstrates that Mr. Summers is an essential person in the Lottery (Paramitha, 2021). However, his attitude to the tradition is indifferent and fearless, as Mr. Summers is confident that he will not be the one to be stoned to death (Paramitha, 2021).

On the other hand, although Tessie rushes her husband to participate in the Lottery, she is hesitant and upset when it is her turn (Paramitha, 2021). As she wins the Lottery, Tessie tries to resist but is either ignored or suppressed by others, including her spouse (Paramitha, 2021). Mr. Summers is rather relaxed and self-possessed, holding a powerful position with the whole village obeying his words and the certainty to live for many years (Paramitha, 2021). Tessie, whether she is screaming for justice or quietly whispering, is neglected and left with no support (Paramitha, 2021). The Lottery ends with nobody listening to Tessie, but Mr. Summers gets to live and tell his story.

Communicating Ideas

When analyzing The Lottery, one can assume that the text communicates particular ideas. As discussed above in the example of Tessie and Mr. Summers, the use of specific words portrays differences between people of certain positions, such as a housewife and a businessman (Paramitha, 2021). However, it is crucial to mention that Tessie’s character represents the majority of people in the village. For instance, while Mr. Summer’s confidence in not being chosen is demonstrated in words such as “stepped forward precisely,” other people are described as “nervously,” “quiet,” and “breathless” (Paramitha, 2021, p. 117).

Although each person is supposed to have an equal possibility of being selected, Mr. Summer’s higher position seems to make him feel unthreatened by the Lottery (Paramitha, 2021). With the use of specific words, the text communicates the idea of how people from varying social positions express and perceive their chances of success.

Furthermore, the text of The Lottery suggests the duality of human nature. Although it has been mentioned above that the villagers laugh at Tessie, at the beginning of the Lottery, she laughs at herself with them and is portrayed as a cheerful character (Jackson, 1948). However, as the Lottery progresses, everyone’s attitude changes, and when Tessie is chosen as the winner, no one laughs with or at her (Jackson, 1948).

Tessie’s personality and opinion of the village’s tradition change when she realizes that she is the one to be stoned to death (Jackson, 1948). As the text makes transitions in the story, it shows the selfishness of human beings who start to be bothered by problems in society only when those problems affect them directly (Nugraha & Mahdi, 2020). The text communicates the idea of people’s indifference towards the troubles of others.

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While transitions in how the text tells the story suggest the ideas of societal problems, it is questionable whether the text draws sound conclusions. Jackson herself stated in an interview that she did not intend to say “nothing in particular” as The Lottery “was just a story” she wrote (Ismael & Ali, 2018, p. 28). However, as the public’s angry response followed the story’s publication, one can assume that people were able to make their own conclusions (Ismael & Ali, 2018).

In particular, some associated The Lottery with criticism towards American society and found connections with the Holocaust (Ismael & Ali, 2018). Moreover, readers also compared the villagers’ tradition of stoning a random person to the extermination of innocent people with the atomic bomb (Ismael & Ali, 2018). While the author of the story denied any specific messages, the public has concluded that the text demonstrates societal problems and questions people’s humanity.

Following that, it is important to mention that no part of the text indicates a sufficient connection to the real world. Other than the character’s names, the text does not provide the name of the village or any area nearby, and although the Lottery happens in June, there is no specification of the year (Jackson, 1948). While research suggests that the lack of such information demonstrates the universality of the story, it also restricts one’s possibilities to make associations with an actual place, period, or culture (Ismael & Ali, 2018).

However, some conclusions that a reader can make based on the text are people’s tendency to violence along with obedience to traditions (Ismael & Ali, 2018). Despite the villagers forgetting the particular aspects of the Lottery’s ritual, “they still remembered to use the stones,” involving even children to participate in the killing process (Jackson, 1948, para. 28; Ismael & Ali, 2018). Although readers have tried to come to specific conclusions, The Lottery suggests some ideas but does not present connections to the real world.

Conclusion

To summarize, despite Shirley Jackson’s statement of The Lottery being just a story, the public has tried to find special meanings and make certain conclusions about it. Research shows the significance of both story and text but also suggests that not all characters get to express their opinions or have them valued. Finally, while the text is effective in offering some ideas, it presents a fascinating story rather than providing evidence of a connection to an existing place or an accurate historical period.

References

Ismael, Z. I., & Ali, S. A. K. (2018). Human rights at stake: Shirley Jackson’s social and political protest in “The lottery”. International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, 7(6), 28-36. Web.

Jackson, Sh. (1948). The lottery. The New Yorker. Web.

Nugraha, I. S., & Mahdi, S. (2020). Transitivity system on building character of Mr. Summers in The lottery by Shirley Jackson. A Journal of Culture, English Language Teaching, Literature and Linguistics, 7(1), 35-43. Web.

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Paramitha, N. P. (2021). Social domination and marginalization in Shirley Jackson’s The lottery: Critical discourse analysis and appraisal study. Journal of English Language Teaching and Linguistics, 6(1), 111-124. Web.

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