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Shirley Jackson, author of “The Lottery”, writes about the possible negative consequences of blindly continuing and not questioning tradition, and how violent acts can occur in any unexpected time or place. She showcases these ideas and several others by discussing a “lottery” that takes place every year on June 27th, where they draw names for said lottery and narrow it down to one individual, and that one person is stoned to death in order to repay the wrongdoings of the whole town, even if this person is completely innocent. Jackson writes to showcase the insanity behind the mindset of killing someone based on something they have absolutely no control over, in order to abolish the belief that women and people of color were inferior during her lifetime, from 1919 to 1965.
Jackson writes for an audience of anyone from as young as middle school students to college students, since there is a lesson to be learned by people of all ages in “The Lottery”. Jackson begins a happy setting where everyone is gathered to draw people in to the story, and then exposes them to the harsh reality after they are already drawn in. She uses adjectives such as “clear and sunny”, “warmth”, and describes the “flowers blossoming profusely”, and “the grass was richly green”.
These descriptive terms are used to set the tone as a happy one in order to entice people into listening to what she has to say. She uses this strategy to show how these social issues can look to outsiders until it is too late. Often with social issues, especially during Jackson’s lifetime what with discrimination against sex and race, nothing was done about these issues until the damage was virtually irreverrsible. After the initial tone of happiness and wellness is established, Jackson turns to the intensity of drawing for the lottery and ignites the reader’s curiosity of what will happen to the “winner”. She uses our curiosity to keep us engaged in the reading and to introduce the negative consequences that could be involved in not questioning tradition. On page 180, beginning at line 30, the men of the town discuss how many other towns are doing away with “the lottery”. They talk of how ridiculous it is that these other towns would even dare question tradition. They think that since it has always been that way, that it should always remain that way, even if it is unethical. This is very similar to the mindset on civil rights in Jackson’s time. People believed that since people of color had always been treated that way, that they should continue to be treated that way, even though they had no control over the color of their skin.
To close the story, Jackson lets us infer that the “winner” of the “lottery” is stoned to death for no reason other than the fact that they randomly drew the piece of paper with the black dot on it from the black box. The passage discusses the townspeople and how each of them carried at least one stone to hit the woman, even the children. This furthers the idea that people are hurt or discriminated against for no reason other than the fact that they happened to be born with a certain quality, or in this case, happened to be the one person who drew this marked piece of paper. This also introduces the idea that unnecessary violence against a person or a group of people can arise at any time, and place, and for any reason.
“The Lottery” could be interpreted in many different ways, but given the time that Jackson lived, and the themes in the story, it is most likely that she intended for it to be a reflection of the time that she lived in. People were hurt for reasons that could not be helped by anyone and this story gives a very blunt example of that. “The Lottery” shows the absurdity of the mindset held by many people back then. Jackson’s strategies were very effective in that her message was effectively written and received. She used a fictional story to convey the message she was trying to get across, and did so very effectively.
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