A critical review paper or article summary of Shirley Jackson’s literary (short story) masterpiece, “The Lottery”.
The Lottery is among fiction reader’s favorites. There is no doubt about that. Reading the story arouses bewilderment, curiosity, as well as general interest, which could be accounted for its astonishing ending. However, some of its critics are also quick for checking. They counter that The Lottery’s too unexpected finale attest the writer’s literary inexperience. On the other hand, Shirley Jackson effectively used the aspects of suspense or horror all throughout in order to develop intentionally her seemingly unanticipated ending and generally the obscured meaning her story.
Among the attributes frequently reproached in Jackson’s The Lottery are its ambiguous dialogue and characters that are bluntly presented. The Lottery’s character development is indeed indistinct whichever direction you look at it. However, Shirley Jackson used them as an advantage to develop her prevailing theme – the horror of man’s evil. As part of the development of this centralizing theme, Jackson omitted the exacting characterization of a protagonist and/or antagonists. She does this by displaying everyone in the story as just an average person. The reader would have never determined from the beginning if it were Mr. Joe Summers or Old Man Warner, Mr. and Mrs. Adams or Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson who was the emerging protagonist. Yet this was for the reason that as supporting theme, all characters must be treated equally to prove that the ultimate sacrificial victim (the protagonist) could be anyone; henceforth to emphasize even more the horror of man’s evil as central theme.
The next point to consider is Jackson’s imprecise style of delivering the short story. Again, this is purely intentional – the dialogue, tone, and the irony which are all but elusive. The dialogue jumps from expected to unexpected remarks, as with Mr. Summer’s suggestions of replacing the black lottery box and the people’s reaction including Old Man Warner’s mention that it was “Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody” as there has always been a lottery. The author’s tone remains detached, as with showing no instance that anybody heeded Tessie as she kept on uttering, “It wasn’t fair… I think we ought to start over… I tell you it wasn’t fair” nor describing any reaction in the people as they were going in upon Tessie. And, irony is prevalent verbally and dramatically – as with the two-sided expression of the black box symbolism and the characters’ prejudiced and hypocritical behavior – for instance in Mrs. Delacroix, who is supposed to be Tessie’s good friend, reprimanding her to be a “good sport” saying “All of us took the same chance” and, in the end, selecting a huge stone for throwing at her; A friend’s loud whisper hoping that it’s not Nancy; Everyone blandly wanting to have the lottery done with yet (everyone including family) acting naturally towards the result of the draw and at all fervor while getting on with the throwing; Also Mr. Adams who pointed to Old Man Warner that the north village talks of stopping the lottery yet was one in the front line while they all “finish quickly”.
Still, these are all in keeping with the suspenseful theme of the Lottery. The discrepancy in the expression of symbols and the succession of events and the characters’ behavior, express the underlying supporting theme – a struggle to keep with the lottery routine because of the fear of change – which necessarily disguises the morbid evils of man, hence making the central theme more horrific.
Lastly, the point of view and plot that Jackson uses aids the development of suspense theme of the story. Although often, the foreshadowing element of The Lottery is not recognized – the use of the other elements mentioned above prove this point that Jackson intended to present The Lottery in such a way that later event, most especially the ending, is prepared for. Moreover, it is the omniscient objective-limited point of view used in The Lottery that obscures the foreshadowing element. On the other hand, it was again preferred for keeping with the detached un-feeling cruelty theme that dominates the entire narrative.
The Lottery’s characters, style (dialogue, tone, and irony), plot, point of view, and the interplay of themes, were all developed around the central theme of the story – the greatness of how the horrors of man’s evil could be. Shirley Jackson’s use or intended lack of use of these short story elements was able to set the atmosphere of the story, to create the suspense/horror theme of The Lottery, and finally to prepare for its shock ending. All these make it an interesting, and credible literary piece, no matter how controversial.