“The Lottery” is a short story written by Shirley Jackson first published in the June 26, 1948 issue of The New Yorker. The story describes a fictional small town which observes an annual ritual known as “the lottery”, which results in the killing of one individual in the town.
“The Lottery” appeared three weeks after Jackson’s agent had submitted it, and there was instant controversy: Hundreds of readers cancelled their subscriptions and wrote letters expressing their rage and confusion about the story
The story is only a few pages long but it can breed some dread for the upcoming selection of the person. They each get to draw a piece of paper and the one who’s marked will be the victim.
On the morning of the lottery, the townspeople gather close to 10 a.m. in order to have everything done in time for lunch. First, the heads of the extended families draw slips until every family has a slip.
After that, there was a long pause, a breathless pause, until Mr. Summers. holding his slip of paper in the air, said, “All right, fellows.” For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened.
Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saving. “Who is it?,” “Who’s got it?,” “Is it the Dunbars?,” “Is it the Watsons?” Then the voices began to say, “It’s Hutchinson. It’s Bill,” “Bill Hutchinson’s got it.”
Bill Hutchinson gets the one slip with a black spot, meaning that his family has been chosen. The second round would ordinarily be to select one household within the family, but since there is only one Hutchinson household (Bill’s adult sister and daughter are counted with their husbands’ families), the second round is skipped.
The final round is for the individual family members within the winning household to draw, no matter their age. Bill’s wife Tessie gets the marked slip. After the drawing is over and Tessie is picked, the slips are allowed to fly off into the wind. In keeping with tradition, each villager obtains a stone and begins to surround Tessie. The story ends as Tessie is stoned to death while she bemoans the unfairness of the situation.
The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles.
Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.
“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.
When asked about her story, Jackson responded:
Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.
Helen E. Nebeker’s essay, “‘The Lottery’: Symbolic Tour de Force”, in American Literature (March 1974), claims that every major name in the story has a special significance.
By the end of the first two paragraphs, Jackson has carefully indicated the season, time of ancient excess and sacrifice, and the stones, most ancient of sacrificial weapons. She has also hinted at larger meanings through name symbolism. “Martin”, Bobby’s surname, derives from a Middle English word signifying ape or monkey. This, juxtaposed with “Harry Jones” (in all its commonness) and “Dickie Delacroix” (of-the-Cross) urges us to an awareness of the Hairy Ape within us all, veneered by a Christianity as perverted as “Delacroix,” vulgarized to “Dellacroy” by the villagers. Horribly, at the end of the story, it will be Mrs. Delacroix, warm and friendly in her natural state, who will select a stone “so large she had to pick it up with both hands” and will encourage her friends to follow suit … “Mr. Adams,” at once progenitor and martyr in the Judeo-Christian myth of man, stands with “Mrs. Graves”—the ultimate refuge or escape of all mankind—in the forefront of the crowd.
Fritz Oehlshlaeger, in “The Stoning of Mistress Hutchinson Meaning of Context in ‘The Lottery'” (Essays in Literature, 1988), wrote:
The name of Jackson’s victim links her to Anne Hutchinson, whose Antinomian beliefs, found to be heretical by the Puritan hierarchy, resulted in her banishment from Massachusetts in 1638. While Tessie Hutchinson is no spiritual rebel, to be sure, Jackson’s allusion to Anne Hutchinson reinforces her suggestions of a rebellion lurking within the women of her imaginary village. Since Tessie Hutchinson is the protagonist of “The Lottery,” there is every indication that her name is indeed an allusion to Anne Hutchinson, the American religious dissenter. She was excommunicated despite an unfair trial, while Tessie questions the tradition and correctness of the lottery as well as her humble status as a wife. It might as well be this insubordination that leads to her selection by the lottery and stoning by the angry mob of villagers.
Even Harold Ross, editor of the magazine at the time, copped to not understanding it. Jackson later recalled that the magazine’s fiction editor asked if she had an interpretation of the story, telling her that Ross “was not altogether sure that he understood the story, and asked if I cared to enlarge about its meaning. I said no.” When the editor asked if there was something the magazine should tell people who might write in or call, Jackson again responded in the negative, saying, “It was just a story that I wrote.”
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