A Literary Analysis of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson's short story, "
The Lottery", ironically gives the lottery a bad meaning. The lottery in this story is used for a public stoning, contrary to the first thing that comes to a reader's mind when they think of winning the lottery; a big sum of money. The reader sees both literal and metaphorical meaning of this story because for one it shows for face value what the entire story is about, and hidden behind it is the notion of the scapegoat being picked like a lottery number.
The setting of the story in respects to the story's environment served to illustrate the mood of that particular time in the story. It serves a small role in words, but adds detail to enhance the feeling the reader gets when reading the story. The setting takes place in the town square, where the story starts out with "the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green." An ambience of cheerfulness and buoyancy fills the air. Also, some foreshadowing is being used because the town square is a clue that the lottery must hold some kind of importance. Another piece of foreshadowing is when "Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie... eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square...," which hints at the impending doom of the lottery winner. The only place where setting is a factor is the beginning, because the setting stays the same, and the environment does not change in the two hours that the story took place in.
Essentially, this story is told in the limited omniscient point of view. The histories of selected characters were told, but the thoughts of the characters were omitted from any part of the story. The point of view is used to conceal what is going to happen next. By using limited, the thoughts of the characters are left out, and therefore, since they know what the lottery is, they surely think about it. If the
author was to put the thoughts of the character in the story, then the ending would have been given away at the start of lottery ritual, because the dreadful consequences of drawing the black dot would be all the people are thinking about.
Many Characters are introduced into this story. Flat characters are introduced in the beginning of the story, either setting up stones or adding to the mood of the story. "The men began to gather, surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes" This is both a flat and stereotypical group of people, just to add to the casualness of the scene at the start of the story. Flat characters were also used to say things pertaining to the events of the story. When the Hutchinsons were being called up to the box, some women say things like this: ""Be a good sport, Tessie." Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, "All of us took the same chance."" The author also balanced the flat characters with round characters. The round, developing protagonist, Tessie Hutchinson, is presented indirectly throughout the story, and is motivated by the choosing of her family to change her style of thinking to opposing the lottery and its injustices.
A round static character who officiates the lottery is Mr. Summers. He has "time and energy to devote to civic activities" and is a "...round-faced, jovial man... and people were sorry for him, because he had no children and his wife was a scold." His position is to carry out the idea of the lottery, and to see through that the operation runs smoothly. He is the personification of the antagonist, while the real antagonist is the box, which represents the institution of the lottery.
The struggle between the protagonist and antagonist was a physical struggle for Mrs. Hutchinson to protest the fairness of this lottery. The lottery struggles against the protest, by staying resolute. "Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones." The ending of the story came as quite a surprise. The conflict is resolved with Tessie being stoned. It is fairly achieved because the lottery's purpose was unknown until the time when Mrs. Hutchinson is stoned by the villagers. That is when the reason for the lottery and the protest against it by Mrs. Hutchinson is revealed to the reader directly. The device of suspense is utilized when the people of the village must open their papers and see who is the one picked for the lottery. There is no telling who was picked, and the reader at that point does not even know why they are picked, but the possibilities for what the lottery may be keep the reader in suspense to see who the winner is, and what happens to them.
Chance in the story is used as the basis of the entire plot. Everyone gathers in the town square to partake in this event of chance, and whoever gets picked will have to pay the price. The author uses chance to initiate the story and to send the message of her theme, that in life scapegoats for anything are chosen seemingly randomly, and are not fair at all. The explicit theme opposes popular notions of life because people want to live in a perfect world. Jackson uses the institution of the lottery to give the audience a reality check of what is going on in the real world. Tessie Hutchinson sums up the moral of the story that her use as a scapegoat "...isn't fair, it isn't right,"" right before she gets stoned.
The author's use of symbolism reinforces the meaning of the story in showing that the scapegoat problem of society is wrong. The lottery and the stones symbolize the way and the fashion in which people today are used as scapegoats. Other minor uses of symbolism are shown through characters of different generations. There are the children, the adults, and Old Man Warner, who represent the past, present, and future respectively. For the children "School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play." There really isn't much to worry about for them, and they do not understand much about this stoning, they seemingly do what they are taught by the adults, but some children do not like to see this, showing a slight longing for change in the future when little Nancy's "school friends breathed heavily as she went forward switching her skirt." Another time later in the crowed someone yells they hope it is not Nancy. There is a longing to preserve the youth so they can go on in the future. The present, in Mrs. Hutchinson is shown as a state of protest, wanting change from the past, and lastly, Old Man Warner's static attitude stays throughout the story, an attitude to keep things the same. In response to the lottery being removed in some places he says ""Nothing but trouble in that,"..."Pack of young fools."" The use of past present and future shows some hope for the future because the present is working to break away from the bonds of the past, and slowly attempt to phase out the bad institution. However, it is up to the reader to determine to what extent it will be phased out since the ending shows the present being chastised.
My estimate of this story is that the message of the story teaches about life, and the reality of life. The ending of the story is quite unfair since Tessie is chosen by a complete random drawing to get stoned, and it shows the position of many scapegoats today. Corporations that fail most always find one person to blame for the entire failure of the company. It shows that in the future, blaming people without any basis should not be done, after seeing how many people today are being targeted.
This story does not show any type of formula, since it ends up surprising the reader with the protagonist losing in the end. She does not get what she wants, so she ends up being beaten by the system. This type of story would not be for the immature reader as the reader expects for the winner to get something good, but the author pulls the rug from under them and gives them an ending other than expected. The mature reader reads this as a fact of life, and recognizes the faults of society.
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