Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) is the well-known writer, the classic of American literature of 20th century. She is famous by her short story The Lottery (1948) and the novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959). Richard Matheson and Stephen King were under the influence of her works. She is thought as the founder of so called “psychological gothic”¯ (Oppenheimer 98). In January 2008 the Shirley Jackson award was founded: for the prominent achievements in literature of psychological suspense, horror and dark fantasy.
The authoress represents the ordinary American village with a population in three hundred persons. The society is quite normal for this time: men dominate over women but they are satisfied with such conditions. First suspicious thing is children, gathering stones, but everybody’s merry mood dispels our apprehensions. At first glance everything is wonderful and people are going to raffle off valuable prizes.
Everything is normal there except, probably, one fact. Every year in June in the morning one habitant is killed there. He is stoned to death. This murder is the consequence of a custom, which was formed from time immemorial ”“ “the lottery”¯. Ā The “lottery”¯ is raffled off by both adults and children. People prepare for this “holiday”¯ beforehand (The Lottery by Shirley Jackson).
From a black box each habitant draws paper-lots. That person who gets the black mark on his scrap of paper “wins”¯.
He will be killed here by stoning. Everything is very clear and “simple”¯. The method of murder is not new (because it was stoning was used from Jesus times), but relation of habitants to such custom. By all accounts they know that somewhere “lottery”¯ isn’t already take place; “There’s always been a lottery”¯ 77 years old man Warner notices: “Nothing but trouble in that”¦ Pack of young fools”¯ (Jackson 23). He 77 times participated and survived”¦ applied task of probability theory”¦ For habitants it is a custom, event which can make their routine brighter.
The author shows quite friendship relation between the inhabitants and there is one interesting and quite awful thing: “the lottery”¯ always takes place in the square where dances or Halloween celebrates. This fact illustrates us that people like and respect this event.
It seems that the author is showing us the picture of the whole world, describing this small town. All inhabitants are acquainted with each other and they live together all their lives. Mr. Summers is in charge of lottery. Judge by the sorry sight of the black box this custom has a long history.
The remarkable of this short is a when Mrs. Hutchinson hurries and is afraid to be late on the “lottery”¯. Actually, she will be stoned by her own family members and friends. Small children are given small stones and taught to fling. Old Man Warner ”“ “Come on, come on, everyone!”¯ (Jackson 25).
I think that Mrs. Hutchinson realizes that this lottery is wrong, but she does nothing to stop “the drawing”¯. Instead of this she screams: “There’s Don and Eva,”¯ she yelled maliciously, “Make them take their chance”¯ (Jackson 21). Only in the end she understands all bitterness of her standing and this awful performance.
The most amazing thing in this short story is the inhabitants’ attitude toward this custom. The weakness of spirit is showed here in full measure. During centuries people take part in this lottery, considering it as their only entertainment. They haven’t ever thought that this barbaric custom is a murder and very awful thing.
The sayings from the crowd are quite encouraging (“Don’t be nervous, Jack”¯). In the last moment crowd keeps silent ”“ only one girl expressed the pity and hope, but crowd showed her its contempt: “he crowd was quiet. A girl whispered, “I hope it’s not Nancy,”¯ and the sound of the whisper reached the edges of the crowd”¯ (Jackson 26)
I think that the main idea of this short story is that violence is realized only when it becomes personal. The cruelty is around us and very often we don’t recognize it, thinking that everything is normal. May be we need to look around our life and our world and we see “the lottery”¯ in our real lives.
After the publishing of “The Lottery”¯ in ”¯The New Yorker”¯ magazine Shirley Jackson had to justify her attitude towards modern humanity. She explained that modern society is quite cruel and sometimes even evil. In her short story the author tried to shock us and attract our attention on the violence, inhumanity, foolishness, fear and terror which are established in our world so strongly. She wrote her shot story almost five decades years ago, but problems continue to be relevant. (Jackson, Interview 15).