Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery

Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story ‘The Lottery game’ is an exploration of what it suggests to belong, or not belong, to a culture and set of customs. Jackson sets the scene easily, explaining a standard little town from the 1920s to the 1940s, where everybody knows everybody, kids play together, ladies and males talk in a naturally segregated way due to the distinctions in their daily lives. Guy, in this standard world, hold political power. It might not be ideal for a modern reader like you or me; still, to the average reader in the late 1940s and early 1950s, fresh out of two world wars and presented with a gradually stabilizing economy, this peaceful little conservative town would be considered idyllic. And that was the point of it. Although Shirley Jackson describes what for many of her readers would have been a perfect life, she uses it to draw sharp contrasts between our evident civility and the barbarism of undisputed cultural traditions.

The culture after WWII was one that Americans took pride in. We today see ourselves as a society that has gone beyond racial segregation, the injustice of women and the criminalization of homosexuality. And we take pride in ourselves for this: we have accomplished much and can recall and see progress. Similarly, individuals who resided in the aftermath of two world wars saw themselves as the proud victors versus injustice. Rather than accept the new steps they had taken and search for more methods to enhance, lots of people assumed they had accomplished just the right amount of justice and power. Shirley Jackson calls this into question by creating a lovely little village, what we now think about the 1950s ideal, where the homeowners believe they have actually achieved the perfect procedure of progress, regardless of participating in a tradition which would be seen as barbaric by the majority of Jackson’s audience. She explains natural life bursting forth from the ground on the “morning of June 27th”, “the fresh heat of a full-summer day” in the air and flowers “blossoming a lot”. She goes on to explain individuals collecting in the square, in much the same way some people collect for religious celebrations or for political processes. They are quiet, possibly a little nervous, but taking pleasure in the weather and each other’s company. A true sense of community is integrated in a few paragraphs before the lotto begins to happen.

The lottery game itself is ambiguous; nevertheless, it influences a feeling of wariness, of dread in many readers. This is mainly because a modern-day reader understands this horror technique. We are extremely acquainted with the “too great to be real” trope utilized, where sweet kids are truly dreadful beasts and the nicest person is the killer. To the target audience in 1948, this story might have been a little upsetting, due to its representation of a custom-made they did not understand. Nevertheless they would have been far less most likely to see where the story would end up than we are today. Rather, the worry is developed by xenophobia, a questioning of foreign cultures– which is precisely what Jackson planned. By making the readers think about why they are not comfy with the town’s traditions, Jackson begins to open them as much as evaluate their own customizeds. This is further enhanced by the dissenting voices in the audience. Throughout the story the townsfolk express wariness about the custom, with some wondering why it ought to be done and others pointing out that lots of towns have stopped drawing their lottery games. And simply as with any custom, numerous voices promote it. Old Male Warner rejects any questioning and dismissively says that” [p] eople ain’t the method they utilized to be” when he hears the village wishing that the victim of the lotto would not be a young girl.

The only character to remain strongly, actively versus the lotto is Tess Hutchinson. Not only does she show up late as she “tidy forgot what day it was”, however as she sees that her household has been limited by the lottery, she turns versus regional concepts of justice, stating the lottery game is “unfair”. Although it is simple to see that her grievances come from a perspective of preserving herself and her kids, rather than from a location of true justice, it deserves keeping in mind that nobody who has actually not been impacted opposes the lottery game. Because town everybody is selfishly and blindly adhering to the custom. Yet Tess’s selfishness does not alter the truth that the lottery game is, to most people’s eyes, unreasonable. The random selection and killing of an innocent townsperson, for whatever reason given, upset people in 1948 as much as it upsets us today. But the very same defenses utilized to support contemporary traditions can easily be used to support the lotto custom too: they have actually always done it, it has significance, it just impacts a couple of people, it’s all down to luck, no one is targeted.

In the end the reader is presented with the scene of Tess Hutchinson’s death, with is a stark pointer of what might happen if we were to always leave our traditions undoubted. ‘The Lotto’ and its message are as important today as they were in 1948. Every generation of our society believes it has actually overthrown the worst generation before it and that its traditions and concepts of justice and fairness are the best ones. ‘The Lottery’ reveals us that no matter who we are or what we have gotten rid of in our pasts, there might constantly be space for enhancement. We ought to not leave our traditions undoubted just because they do not hurt us personally.

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