The Lottery

By Shirley Jackson (1919–1965); @ 8 pages.

It’s hard to discuss a short story without becoming a spoiler and giving the plot away, but here goes. The pacing and element of surprise are very good in this story. The story’s central theme seems to revolve around the importance and value of social rituals to societies.

The action begins on a clear, sunny morning on Jun 27. Villagers are gathering in the square about 10 a.m. for a lottery that will take about two hours to complete. Everything seems very ordinary.

Jackson goes right into showing. We see the children show up in the square first and learn some of their names. We watch what they’re doing—the boys, the girls, the small children. The men arrive. We learn some of their names. Then the women enter the scene. Jackson gives just enough details to give the impression of a crowded city square.

In the village, there are about 300 people, similar in size to the town where I live.

The drawings occur once a year and much ink is spilt in telling about the black box that holds the individual pieces of paper.

The views in this story are cinematic. As readers, we are watching the crowd. The first sinister hint comes when we find out that there is some importance placed on the men drawing for the lottery. Women draw only when the men in their family are too sick or too young.

As the names are being called, we overhear a conversation in the crowd. We learn that some towns have given up the lottery and some are considering it. Some people in the crowd are against this and strongly believe in continuing the lottery. The pacing of the conversation against the calling of the names works very well to build interest and suspense. Over time, the reader can tell that winning the lottery isn’t the greatest thing in the world; in fact, it’s quite the contrary.

I was disappointed in this story because at the end, it doesn’t explain why it’s so important to the townspeople to have the lottery. Still this story is very popular among creative writing teachers and students—I think mainly for its craft and shock value.

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