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|← “The Lottery” written in 1948||"Crime and Punishment" →|
Shirley Jackson’s story is filled with a lot of controversy as she uses comedy and irony to show hypocrisy, evil and moral decadence of the human kind. The short story is staged in a small town where people have close relations, and the tradition is dominant. In this town, there is an annual event called the Lottery and the winner gets to be stoned violently by friends and family in the village square.
The bizarre nature of this event is evident in the writer’s voice. She uses extremely forthcoming language among the members of the village and then presents the lottery in the same way she would present a village dance or a festival in the village. She describes the lottery as a welcome event among the villagers. She further describes the arrival of the women who greeted one another as they arrived and exchanged bits of gossips (281). This way the reader believes that the lottery is an event where the winner takes home a prize due to the anticipation of the villagers for the drawing. The writer only reveals the winners fate at the end of the story the winner dies in the hands of family and friends.
Shirley Jackson presents a normal atmosphere and situation in her story. Here, she is trying to make a declaration in regards to the evil and hypocritical nature of the human kind. She paints a picture of an exceedingly pleasant village with flowers blooming and green grass growing. Even the villagers have decidedly ordinary names such as Warner, Anderson and even Martin. However, all these people have lips filled with honey and hearts filled with evil intentions, which all come out in the end. Jackson is trying to show that underneath the smiles and polite pleasantries people have, they may harbor evil intentions for their neighbors.
The short story does not get subtle until the reader comes to the end. However, the author does show a premonition of events to occur through Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves. Mr. Summers administrates the event also prepares the slips. The writer depicts Mr. Summers as a charming man who jokes around with the villagers but carries out this ominous lottery without a shred of conscience at all. He talks awful nonchalantly with Mr. Graves and the Martins as he leans on the black box. He is a tremendously influential man and his name “ Summers” symbolizes the mood of the people in this event. Mr. Summers is in charge of the lottery, he is the face of the lottery and his name is a symbol of the mood of the lottery. Mr. Graves, on the other hand, is a symbol of the eventual happenings. He is Mr. Summers’s assistant and is always in attendance during the whole event, even though the spotlight is not on him. This in a way foreshadows the evil lurking in this hellish ordinary community. It shows the presence of death in the midst of the crowd during the event, although it is not revealed until the end. In any normal situation, this comes out as quite bizarre. Death in this village during the lottery is not an issue to write home about, because it is obvious.
This story shows how traditions may obscure an individual sense of ethics and lead one to follow the society’s norms blindly. This leads the writer into using a lot of symbolism to show the moral decadence of the people living in this “ordinary” village. Shirley Jackson encourages the reader to see all sides of the dilemma posed in this short story. One of the leading symbols used is the black color which shows the corrupt and evil nature of the individuals in this society.
The writer depicts the entire event as black. The black box, which contains the lottery slips, gives a picture of death and inauspicious things to come; it also shows how the villagers are tied to their traditions not caring about the consequences or the eventualities of following this old age ominous tradition. The box had grown old over the years and was now looking remarkably shabby. It was no longer entirely black but rather one could see the original color of the wood used to make it. This can be discerned as having a double meaning to this story. On one hand, the villagers stone the winner of the lottery without guilt or hesitation. On the other hand, the shabby wooden box shows how rotten this event is and how it should be replaced. This is particularly ironic, because a winner in a lottery ordinarily gets exalted, however, in this village, they stone the winner.
When the despicable shock of the murder has worn off, the reader is now able to see a new meaning to the title of the story, “The Lottery”. The writer uses this title to show how villagers blindly follow old age, meaningless traditions. Her son is a participant in this stone throwing activity and this makes the matter worse. An unsettling fact is that nobody in the village seems to remember the logic behind this ominous ritual. Mr. Warner is the only person who seems to have a vague recollection of the events impact on bountiful harvests. Another noteworthy character in the story is Adams who objects to the ritual of the lottery and the stoning of the winner. However, Adams is too scared to question the status quo.
Shirley Jackson paints a dreary picture of the human race in her story. However, the villagers had forgotten the original ritual just like they had lost the original black box. The villagers had in no way forgotten how to throw stones. The whole event was meaningless and barbaric and painted a bleak picture for civilization.