Narrative & Meaning in Jackson’s “The Lottery”

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is one of the brightest examples of how a sophisticated theme can be transferred within only a few pages of a short story. However, this is not the greatest feature of the piece. In “The Lottery,” the use of narrative techniques favored by the writer serves as a powerful tool of conveying the theme and purpose. Particularly, the author’s point of view, style, tone, and chronology are partially responsible for the reader’s predictions of the story’s ending. The use of narrative techniques in “The Lottery” is a compelling force of preparing the audience to discern the meaning of the story.

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The tone and style of “The Lottery” is rather friendly and cheerful at the beginning, which gives a feeling that something pleasant is about to happen:

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 24).

The tone is joyful when speaking about children: “the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them” (Jackson 24). Further, when describing the men of the village, the author employs a calm tone, but, at the same time, one can notice something sinister in the depiction of the situation. The children are lighthearted and do not seem to think of the lottery as something too serious, collecting stones and being chirpy.

However, the men stand “away from the pile of stones in the corner,” their jokes are “quiet,” and they “smile[d] rather than laugh[ed]” (Jackson 24). For a keen reader, the change of style serves as a key to discerning that there is something ominous in the air. Later, when the author describes the tradition of the lottery, the style is somewhat casual and indifferent, which makes the readers forget the feeling of looming danger and prepares them to witness some entertaining event. By the end, it is clear from the tone, which has turned to rather intense and pessimistic, that there is nothing positive or pleasant in the lottery.

Probably the most vivid example of a bitter tone is when Tessie Hutchinson resorts to an opportunity to escape something by arguing that her married children should participate in the family’s lot. However, when her husband says, “Shut up, Tessie,” it becomes obvious that the woman has both not relieved her lot and made herself look like a panicky fool (Jackson 26). By the end of the story, the tone becomes anxious and desperate. Mrs. Hutchinson screams, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right” while her family, friends, and neighbors start throwing stones at her (Jackson 30). Such frequent fluctuations of style and tone, along with the author’s point of view, help to understand the meaning of the narration more vividly. With the help of carefully selected lexical and stylistic devices, as well as with the third-person narration, Jackson paints a picture of how a senseless tradition poisons relationships between villagers and takes away somebody’s life.

The choice of the point of view plays a significant role in the audience’s perception of the story’s essence. By choosing the third-person narration, the author takes off the responsibility and makes sure that she is not considered a supporter or a participant of the lottery. The chronology of the events is another paramount element contributing to the explanation of the meaning. Jackson starts the narration with people gathering in the square, different ages and genders at different times:

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The children assembled first, of course. The school was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. (Jackson 24).

Soon the men began to gather, surveying their children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes. They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed. The women, wearing faded house dresses and sweaters, came shortly after their menfolk. They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands. Soon the women, standing by their husbands, began to call to their children, and the children came reluctantly, having to be called four or five times. (Jackson 24).

Further, the order of events unfolds in a chronological manner, the author not giving the readers any clue of what the lottery’s winner is bound to receive. This choice of presenting the information allowed Jackson to create a feeling of suspense among the audience. One starts suspecting something rather sinister when Mrs. Hutchinson is desperately trying to make everyone see that “it wasn’t fair,” and they “ought to start over” (Jackson 29). However, one cannot predict the resolution of the story as it appears to be. Thus, Jackson’s choice of chronology helps to convey the meaning but does not give away the ending.

The choice of the point of view, style and tone, and chronology in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” help the reader to understand the theme of the work. The literary piece may be considered controversial, but it is worth reading and analyzing. While the selected narrative techniques prepare the audience for a better realization of the events, they do not give out the culmination point, which makes it rather engaging to read the story until the end.

Work Cited

Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. N.d. Web.

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