Skip Nav

The Lottery Critical Essays

Not what you're looking for?

❶Order a custom essay Print this page Search again Word count:

Introduction

Critical Essay
by Shirley Jackson
The lottery essay

Jackson's fiction is noted for exploring incongruities in everyday life, and "The Lottery," perhaps her most exemplary work in this respect, examines humanity's capacity for evil within a contemporary, familiar, American setting. Noting that the story's characters, physical environment, and even its climactic action lack significant individuating detail, most critics view "The Lottery" as a modern-day parable or fable which obliquely addresses a variety of themes, including the dark side of human nature, the danger of ritualized behavior, and the potential for cruelty when the individual submits to the mass will.

As the townspeople gather and wait for the ceremony to begin, some calmly piling stones together, they discuss everyday matters of work and family, behaving in ways that suggest the ordinariness of their lives and of the impending event.

Tessie Hutchinson, arriving late, talks with her friend, Mrs. Delacroix, about the household chores that almost made her miss the lottery. Although everyone appears to agree that the annual lottery is important, no one seems to know when it began or what its original purpose was. Summers reads off an alphabetical list of names, the heads of each household come forward to select a folded slip of paper from an old black wooden box.

Bill Hutchinson draws the paper with the black mark on it, and people immediately begin speculating about which Hutchinson will actually "win" the drawing. Each member of Bill's family then draws a slip from the box. Tessie selects the paper with the black mark on it, and she vigorously protests the unfairness of the drawing.

The townspeople refuse to listen to her, and as the story ends they begin to pelt her with the stones they have gathered. The principal themes of "The Lottery" rely on the incongruous union of decency and evil in human nature. Frazer's anthropological study of primitive societies, The Golden Bough , many critics observe that the story reflects humankind's ancient need for a scapegoat, a figure upon which it can project its most undesirable qualities, and which can be destroyed in a ritually absolving sacrifice.

Unlike primitive peoples, however, the townspeople in "The Lottery"—insofar as they repre-sent contemporary Western society—should possess social, religious, and moral prohibitions against annual lethal stonings.

Commentators variously argue that it is the very ritualization that makes the murder palatable to otherwise decent people; the ritual, and fulfilling its tradition, justifies and masks the brutality. As a modern parable on the dualism of human nature, "The Lottery" has been read as addressing such issues as the public's fascination with salacious and scandalizing journalism, McCarthyism, and the complicity of the general public in the victimization of minority groups, epitomized by the Holocaust of World War II.

According to Lenemaja Friedman, three "main characteristics dominated the letters: Those critics who read the story as a traditional narrative tend to fault its surprise ending and lack of character development as unrealistic, unbelievable, and making reader identification difficult.

Other commentators, however, view "The Lottery" as a modern-day parable; they argue that the elements of the story often disparaged by its critics are actually consistent with the style and structure of New Testament parables and to stories from the Old Testament. Generally, critics agree only that the story's meaning cannot be determined with exactitude.

While most critics concede that it was Jackson's intention to avoid specific meaning, some cite flatly drawn characters, unrevealing dialogue, and the shocking ending as evidence of literary infertility. The majority of commentators, though, argue that the story's art lies in its provocativeness and that with its parable-like structure Jackson is able to address a variety of timeless issues with contemporary resonance, and thereby stir her readers to reflective thought and debate.

Comment," in Modern Short Stories: A Critical Anthology , edited by Robert B. Heilman, Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, , pp. In the following essay on "The Lottery," Heilman discusses how Jackson's shift "from a realistic to a symbolic technique" intensifies the shock value of the story's ending.

Miss Jackson's story ["The Lottery"] is remarkable for the tremendous shock produced by the ending. Let us ignore the problem of meaning for the moment and see how the shock is created. In general, the method is quite easily recognized. Up to the last six paragraphs the story is written in the manner of a realistic transcript of small-town experience: We see them as decent, friendly, neighborly people; in fact, most of the details could be used just as they are in a conventional picture of idyllic small-town life.

Things are easily, simply told, as if in a factual chronicle note the use of date and hour. Their suppliance falls on empty ears all too often. I could make sure my family is well tended to. I would settle all debts and make sure they have enough money to live the rest of their lives in ease. I would pay for food, bills, education and extravagant amenities for everyone. My mother that shop that sells things of whimsy.

Everything will be paid for! I might run for office as a politician, as president maybe? I would end the covert greed and corruption that underlines our political system. Gone would be the days of haphazard war and bloodshed as domestic growth and an increase in the quality of our education system would be the basis for my presidency. All of my dreams and aspirations could be achieved if I won the lottery.

All of my worries would be a thing of the past. Which of your works would you like to tell your friends about? These links will automatically appear in your email. If you have a suggestion about this website or are experiencing a problem with it, or if you need to report abuse on the site, please let us know. We try to make TeenInk. Please note that while we value your input, we cannot respond to every message. Also, if you have a comment about a particular piece of work on this website, please go to the page where that work is displayed and post a comment on it.

Don't have an account? Sign up for one. Wrong email address or password! Summer Program Reviews College Reviews.

Our Benefits

Main Topics

Privacy Policy

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is a story of an unusual town caught in a trap of always following tradition, even when it is not in their best interest. Jackson uses symbols throughout the story that relate to the overall theme.

Privacy FAQs

Free Shirley Jackson's The Lottery papers, essays, and research papers.

About Our Ads

- The Lottery and Durkheims Ideoloies In this essay we will take a look at and analyze The Lottery by Shirley Jackson in stipulations related to Durkheim's ideologies. I will try to make various links from the story to Durkheim's functionalism. In the following essay on "The Lottery," Heilman discusses how Jackson's shift "from a realistic to a symbolic technique" intensifies the shock value of the story's ending.] Miss Jackson's story ["The .

Cookie Info

The Lottery essays"The Lottery" has many obvious themes and symbols as well as some that are not so easily observable. One of the main themes to this story is tradition and how it . The Lottery Essay. BACK; NEXT ; Writer’s block can be painful, but we’ll help get you over the hump and build a great outline for your paper.