The Lottery, a Short Story by Shirley Jackson
If readers were to pay close attention to the events in The Lottery by Shirley Jackson; then, they might be able to infer what will happen before they come to the end. Jackson wrote this short story in a cryptic way by giving details that led readers to believe one thing over another. She foreshadowed the end of the story throughout the entire text by skillfully repeating the importance of the stones and other symbols. In The Lottery, Jackson makes use of many different literary devices such as irony and symbolism to depict how cruel and corrupt human nature is.
The Lottery is an event that happens once every year on June 27th. The day is described as, “clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.” The irony in that sentence is the day is described as beautiful when only hours later the town will participate in a brutal and disgusting murder. Many aspects of the lottery tradition were lost or faded slowly as time moved forward, but the lottery itself has stayed. Why would the townspeople who believe the lottery will assure a good corn crop allow certain parts of the tradition to be lost over the years? Is it because they get off and find enjoyment from a sick act of violence and do not actually care about the tradition itself?
After reading the story for the first time, Tessie Hutchinson’s mood can be found ironic. She arrived at the town center in a cheerful mood and joked around with Mr. Summers. Some of her neighbors gave her and Mr. Hutchinson a hard time for her tardiness. Tessie was eager to be a part of the lottery until Bill chose the wrong slip of paper. She exclaimed, “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair!” Her reaction shows how any other person would react in the same situation. All of the townspeople were completely okay with being a part of this cruel tradition, but when it is their turn to be stoned to death, they cry and complain about it. Along with irony, Jackson uses foreshadowing to clue in what is going to happen later on.
Tessie Hutchinson arrived late to the gathering in the town square, which is telling for her fate at the end of the story. Mr. Summers even makes a comment saying, “Thought we were going to have to get on without you.” What he says can also be interpreted as a sign that something is going to happen to her during the story. The schoolboys collecting stones foreshadows what the winner of the lottery is going to receive and how they will meet their death. The men gathered together before the lottery and spoke about things such as rain and taxes. Instead, of joking loudly and laughing hard, they spoke quietly and smiled. Although their actions are subtle it gives off an eerie vibe. Even the town’s unease and nervousness for the lottery beginning is another tell-tale sign that something is peculiar about what is going to happen.
The black box is a centerpiece of the lottery and most of the story revolves around it. The box itself is worn out and old. The villagers refuse to replace it because they feel it will upset the tradition that has been around longer than Old Man Warner has been alive even though it’s not the original. The black box is a symbol for the people because the wear and tear show how their tradition has been around long before any of them were born. Stones are mentioned often throughout the story with no explanation as to why. They can be seen as a symbol of the sadistic violence the townspeople are so eager to commit.
A statement further drives in the importance of the stones by saying, “the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the black box, they still remembered to use stones.” Chips of wood used to be used in lieu of pieces of paper when the lottery first started. That detail shows the importance of the lottery to the villagers. As time passed and traditions were forgotten, pieces of paper were substituted for the wooden chips. It shows how pointless this “important” event is because the fate of someone’s life rests in a slip of paper marked with a pencil the night before June 27th. This detail also demonstrates the power the villagers have and how the piece of paper holds no power at all.
This story does not tell the tale of one village but mentions there are more that conduct their own lottery. It was shown these people do not care too much about human life because they were eager to participate in a cruel and corrupt activity. Tessie Hutchinson was the voice for the people on the other side of the stone. She wanted to show that it was not fair to be stoned to death for picking the short straw, or in this case, the marked slip of paper. If The Lottery is read carefully, Jackson’s genius use of different literary devices truly makes the conclusion of the story a surprise. She led readers to believe winning the lottery was going to be an exciting and fun experience, but completely turned it around and made it horrifying and grotesque.