The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

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.

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  1. interesting
    Posted June 25, 2008 at 1:40 am


  2. Meshell
    Posted September 1, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Wow.. this really helped me on one of my english assignments.. like it lightly touches all of the things i need to address yet leaves enough for me to still write about originally.. pluss i love that its like free.. cause everywhere else i was looking.. like cost money.. so thanks a lot!

  3. person un-named
    Posted September 8, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    this reeeeally hepled me with my english homework! thanks a bunch

  4. Gerlis
    Posted September 21, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you sooo much you couldnt have made it any easier to comprehend.

  5. jairo
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    This is a very good story nothing likewise. Very entertaining, but commercial fiction;)

  6. jario= stupid
    Posted October 2, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    This story is not commercial fiction what so ever Jario. stupid ass

  7. #6 = stupid
    Posted October 5, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    You can’t even spell his name right.

  8. no name
    Posted October 9, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    it was really useful thank you english is made so much easier now! Sick story though.

  9. jasmine
    Posted October 14, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    thanx this helped alot:D

  10. person3
    Posted October 19, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    hahaha Same here Meshell

  11. no name
    Posted November 9, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    This really helps me with my ENGLISH HW

  12. lemek
    Posted November 28, 2008 at 9:10 am

    LOVE it Wrote my essay in an hour usually takes 2 or 3
    thanks a lotttttttt

  13. sandeep
    Posted December 5, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    I need help to answer the question about the lottery
    there are six questions left

    1. Which family drew the marked slip?

    2. What happen to the winner of the lottery?

    3. On what material are the family names placed in the black box?

    4. What appears on the condemned family’s slip?

    5. How long does it take to conduct the lottery?

    6. Explain the rules of the wayin which the lottery is conducted?

  14. none
    Posted February 2, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    this is a very good story and i was truly helped by the information given in this essay!
    Thank You very much!!! :)

  15. sara
    Posted February 10, 2009 at 12:54 am

    i agree with # 7 ahahha

  16. tiny
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I have to write a 2 page paper on what the following names
    signify in this story


    Any Ideas????

  17. Ngoc Van
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 6:01 am

    I think this game is’e fair for everyone…

  18. Posted June 24, 2009 at 4:27 am

    it’s very brutal!!!!really!!!!

  19. LIUYT
    Posted November 22, 2009 at 11:45 am

    اختصروا التعليق على قصة شارلي

  20. Dezzy
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    I found this very interesting and very informational. I also read the lottery for my English class. What you wrote made me hanks <33

  21. Stewie
    Posted October 2, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    “The Lottery” is weak, ridiculous nonsense. I don’t see what’s so good about it. It’s trite, contrived and just stupid. It’s about as scary or shocking an ending as the 99th time you see a Twilight Zone……only it’s the same after reading it once. If it’s an allegory about the Holocaust, whoopie, if it’s about the “evils” of mankind – big deal. There are a million better short stories.

  22. Posted December 4, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    First book I read were everyone is both the protagonist and the antagonist. That was a seriously twisted ending.

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