By Shirley Jackson (1919-1965)
A Study Guide
and Plot Summary by Michael J. Cummings...©
.......“The Lottery" is a short story in the horror genre. Critics generally consider it one of the finest American short stories of the twentieth century.
.......The action takes place between 10 a.m. and noon on June 27, a sunny day, in a New England village.
Bobby Martin: Boy
who loads his pockets with stones that he will use after townspeople draw
lottery numbers. He also helps build a pile of stones.
reluctance of people to reject outdated traditions, ideas, rules, laws,
and practices. The villagers continue the lottery year after year because,
as one of the villagers would say, “We have always had a lottery as far
back as I can remember. I see no reason to end it." Put another way, this
theme says: “We’ve always done it this way. Why change now?" In real life,
defenders of the status quo have used this philosophy down through the
ages and into the present day. For example, it was used in 1776 to retain
slavery even though the Declaration of Independence asserted that “all
men are created equal." Until 1919, it was used to prevent women from voting.
Until the 1960's, it was used as an official public policy to allow racial
segregation. This philosophy continues to be used today to retain outmoded
practices, discriminatory practices, and sometimes dangerous practices.
These practices include the use of paper ballots in elections, the use
of nuclear weapons, capital punishment, abortion, anti-Semitism, racial
profiling, and denial of health benefits to the poor.
.......Some first-time readers of "The Lottery" tend to cite the ending, describing the commencement of the stoning of Tessie Hutchinson, as the only disturbing part of the story. But those who have studied the story know otherwise. Consider, for example, the following:
.......Shirley Jackson foreshadows the ending when the children gather stones (second paragraph):
Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix . . . eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys.Point of View
.......The point of view is third person, detached and objective.
.......The climax occurs at the end, when the villagers begin to stone Tessie Hutchinson.
Following are examples of irony in the story:
The lottery: (1) Barbaric
tradition or practice. In this category in former times were slavery and
human sacrifice practiced by the ancient Maya civilization that inhabitated
modern-day Mexico and other Central American countries. In modern times,
abortion, capital punisment, sadomasochism, cage-fighting, and dog-fighting
are in this category. (2) Any foolhardy tradition that a community refuses
to give up, such as the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. (3) Real-life
lotteries and other forms of gambling that devastate human beings. (4)
The risks of daily living, such as driving a car or flying on an airplane,
Will the Lottery Die Out?
.......The story presents the possibility that the lottery is dying out. For example, a passage in the seventh paragraph indicates that the villagers have already permitted certain parts of the lottery ritual to lapse:
[A]t one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory, tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this part of the ritual had been allowed to lapse. There had been, also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use in addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this also had changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official to speak to each person approaching.Later in the story Steve Adams tells Old Man Warner "that over in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery." A moment later, Mrs. Adams says, "Some places have already quit lotteries."
Study Questions and Essay Topics