Since I recently reviewed a short story in The Lawrentian, I thought I would continue along that trend and write about the first short story I ever read, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” Written in 1948, Jackson’s dystopian tale is a forerunner of contemporary novels such as “The Hunger Games” and “The Maze Runner.”
The story opens on a warm June day as Jackson describes the children of the village running around and collecting stones. Slowly, all the citizens converge in the village square to take part in the lottery. Mr. Summers runs the lottery, reminding all the people of the rules of the proceedings. Jackson introduces the character Tessie Hutchinson, who has arrived late to the lottery, looking flustered because she forgot about the day’s events. After Mr. Summers goes through the history of the lottery, the villagers each draw their papers, and Tessie’s husband draws the marked piece. The family then gathers on stage to finish the lottery as Jackson builds suspense; something about this ceremony does not seem quite right. You will have to read the story to see Jackson’s dark ending.
While stories like “The Lottery” may seem familiar to readers today, Jackson was part of the vanguard that began to utilize the literary tool of dystopian foreshadowing. From the images of children collecting stones to Tessie’s multiple pleas and protests, Jackson gives readers clues about the sinister ways of the village within her descriptions. This foreshadowing creates a foreboding feeling as Tessie becomes more and more worried, all the way up until the final sentences of the story.
Apart from the foreshadowing, Jackson also explores the psychology of the villagers in the midst of a remarkable death. From characters like Mr. Summers and Old Man Warner, who have experienced numerous lotteries and have fought to preserve their antiquated ways of life to those like Tessie, who realizes just how barbaric the practice is only too late, Jackson explores every aspect of this psychological spectrum. The most interesting psychological twist that Jackson provides is his choice to expose Tessie’s ideologies, which are in contrast with the ideologies of her family; she hates the lottery, while her husband and children find nothing wrong with it. These insights about society and the stubbornness of those set in their ways makes Jackson’s short story nothing less than iconic. Though “The Lottery” was written in 1948, this idea of the inability to accept progress is still poignant and relevant today.