“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson Critical Essay
The lottery is a short story that revolves around life in an agricultural village, whose setting is in summer; when flowers are blossoming and lawns exceedingly green. The village is composed of a population of about three hundred people, who know each other very well. The men are generally farmers, while the women are homemakers and school teachers.
The build up to the lottery draw, keeps the reader in suspense as to who is going to win the prize that is expected to be material in nature, but sadly enough turns out to be a death sentence; which begs the question as to why one would subscribe to such a lottery in the first place.
There is plenty of irony in the literature, that is observed where Bill Hutchinson, who won the lottery in the first round; by picking the paper with the black spot, is adjudged by his wife not to be the true winner, because of technical reasons. What is strikingly odd is that his wife Tessie, purports that Mr. Summers did not give her husband enough time to pick a paper of his choice, yet the whole village asserts that everyone was given the same amount of time, to pick a piece of paper from the box.
One wonders why a second draw should be made, to pick another winner yet a winner had been expressly identified. This is a deviation from the normal rules of a conventional lottery. The sentiments are echoed by old man Warner who intimates that, “It’s not the way it used to be” (Jackson 19).
Evidently, the annual lottery conducted by the village is not a typical lottery in the sense that, the person running the lottery is also a participant.
Mr. Summers and his assistant Mr. Graves, take part in the ill fated lottery too. Additionally, Mr. Summers is charged with the responsibility of preparing the lottery materials, giving him the opportunity for foul play, by carefully engineering a ploy to avert picking the condemned lottery ticket; since all the materials are kept under his care at the coal factory, a yearly routine he engages in.
There is some bit of satire in the literature, where we see the names of certain characters, coinciding with the events that are unfolding in the village. For instance, Mr. Summers’ name; who is the organizer of the lottery, coincides with the period that the aforesaid event is supposed to take place.
Furthermore, the annual event takes place on June 27th of every year, during summer time. Furthermore, his assistant’s name, Mr. Graves, coincides with the penultimate outcome of the lottery; the stoning of the winner, who in this case is Mrs. Hutchinson.
Due protocol was not followed in the second draw of the lottery, where Bill Hutchinson unfolded his lottery ticket, before his name was called out.
Ordinarily, one ought to unfold his or her lottery ticket, after the calling out of names by Mr. Summers. In the first draw, Bill was overly cautious when unfolding his ticket because he did not know the contents of the paper, but we can see clearly that he was beaming with confidence when unfolding his lottery ticket in the second draw; showing that he knew his fate with regard to the second draw.
This is clearly evidenced by his snatching of the lottery ticket from his condemned wife, Tessie. We can see from the first draw that Tessie is quite empathetic to Bill when he picks the winning ticket , and tries to defend her husband, by claiming that the process was not fair to him; because he wasn’t given ample time to pick a ticket of his choice. What is strange about this is that when Tessie gets into the same predicament, her husband does not come to her defense.
Seemingly, the village chooses to give the other rituals of the black box a wide berth; like the recital and the ritual salute, but is never oblivious of the grotesque act, of stoning the winner of the lottery to death. This goes to show that people are not interested in the credibility of the lottery process, but are solely interested in the aftermath of the entire process. “The original paraphernalia of the lottery had been lost long ago” (Jackson 7).
The lottery ritual had been stopped in other towns, which have a very large population; where people could take up to two days to conduct the lottery, yet this village with a marginal population, chooses to adhere to this yearly ritual that robs them of a member every year. Conventional wisdom would dictate that, a town with a small population quit this ritual before the one with a big population, because the population of the former has closer personal relations that the latter.
The oldest man in the village, Mr. Warner, has participated in the lottery on seventy seven occasions, but has never been unlucky enough to win the lottery (Murphy 105). Mathematically speaking, men start participating in the lottery at the age of sixteen, so if we do some bit of arithmetic; old Warner is ninety three years old. Why would one want to stone a ninety three year old man to death, yet he is in his sunset years and can die at any time?
Mrs. Delacroix, who is the first person Mrs. Hutchinson greets when she joins the villagers, is the one who picks the largest stone to kill her; yet they appear to be close friends in their earlier interaction (Bloom 27). One is left wondering, whether the farewell tap that Mrs. Hutchinson gave Mrs. Delacroix was a final one.
It is also questionable as to whether Mrs. Hutchinson had an intuition that something would go wrong, since she was the last person to join the crowd, and she was the one who won the condemned prize. Given that her intuition was right, she ought to have had second thoughts about taking part in the lottery.
In all odds, the villagers do not seem to be disturbed by what they do; they want the process to be hastened, so that they can complete their barbaric and sadistic mission, in time to have their noon dinner. To them, it is normal for one of their own to die after the lottery, for it to be successful. The title of the book itself is ironical, in the sense that; one expects that the winner will be given a reward in material terms, but what is observed in the end is worth being called a death game.
The lottery is a captivating short story, which elicits a lot of feelings of suspense to the reader. It starts with a very flowery description of a village and its residents, but ends tragically with the death of Mrs. Hutchinson; a village member with a very magnetic personality. The death is as a result of inhuman acts of the village members, who don not show any remorse for their misconduct.
This narrative makes one wonder where this kind of ritual originated from, and why the villagers still adhere to it; yet it is clear that everybody fears winning. Every village member is tense when unfolding a lottery ticket; as we see when Mr. Hutchinson, wins the first round of the lottery. All in all, it is a thoughtfully written piece of literature, which is academically invoking in all aspects.
Bloom, Harold. Comprehensive Research and Study Guide: Bloom’s Major, Short Story Writers. Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001. Print.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. Mankato: Creative Education, 2008. Print.
Murphy, M., Bernice. Shirley Jackson’s Essays on the Literary Legacy. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, 2005. Print.
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