Shirley Jackson‘s The Lottery was published in 1948. Apparently, she knocked out this this piece that will forever (it seems) remain on reading lists in college, in a mere afternoon. That’s pretty darn impressive.
Premise of The Lottery
A small village is preparing for the annual lottery. The majority of the story is the buildup to what the lottery actually is. The preparations, the town’s folks’ attitude and finally the drawing and what the winner wins. Hint: it’s not like the Powerball or Mega Millions of today.
Breakdown of the Story
We learn that the Lottery is a big event. The Lottery has been taking place for so long that the original box has deteriorated and been replaced, and the original order of things has been lost. Some villages and towns are so big it takes two days to get through the whole lottery process. But for this village, it will only take two hours. Enough time that the families can get back home in time for dinner.
The preparation is done to the best of their remembrance. Tradition is important.
We learn some towns have discussed doing away with the Lottery, and a few towns have already stopped the annual lottery.
Everyone participates in the lottery. All ages, every family member, no matter the age. The Lottery is not what we’d expect, there is a big twist.
As all the people have gathered the officials do their best to keep everyone moving along, “…we’ve got to be hurrying a little more to get done in time.”
Shirley Jackson is known for her great writing, The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, etc… and this piece is no exception. The story gives us great characters, we get the feel of a small town gathering with the different voices, the tension.
The tension build is great.
WARNING: Spoiler Alert
I hated this piece when I was assigned to read it in college. I hated the ending.
Time took its toll, and my memory failed a bit. One day, I decided to give Shirley Jackson another chance and I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle and enjoyed it immensely. I then read The Haunting of Hill House and it’s good, not as great as the former, but good. So, I decided to give this story another chance.
The big thing about the Lottery is that it’s some archaic sacrifice. The townspeople stone a person every year in hopes of a good crop; “Lottery in June, Corn be heavy soon.”
In my skewed memory, I remembered the story being different. Slightly. In my skewed remembrance, I thought a child was stoned, and that was too much for me to handle, that people would gather and allow such a thing. Yes, it’s a story, but still….
Well, it wasn’t a child that was stoned it was a parent, but the unsaid is there, all the kids are participants. The first drawing is to see which family will do the final draw. Then the members of the family draw and whoever has the blackspot gets stoned. It was the wife. Not only are the kids participants in the drawing, they also participate in stoning their family member. Such a brutal concept.
And Shirley wrote it well, it definitely raised my ire. The business-like attitude, the “hurry up” the callous attitude of some town’s folk. All compiled to create a horrific ending.
Would I Recommend?
The words of my college professor came back to me. I had griped about the story, I hated it. She said, “Do you think you have such an intense reaction because it was written so well?”
Darn it all, I think she’s right.
It is well written and well developed. I would recommend it.