English 101 (2503)
25 July 2012
Abstract for “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
Although Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is widely read, it has received little critical review in the decades since it was published. This analysis of the text illuminates Jackson’s intertwining of the story’s theme, point of view and language. One finds that each of these three an integral part depends on the other. One must examine Jackson’s linguistic techniques in order to understand how the point of view is so effective in constructing the story’s theme. Her linguistic techniques include: the use of the article “the,” the lack of adverbs and adjectives in the syntactic structures and the use of words with ambiguous semantic descriptions. Shirley Jackson is a contemporary American writer who has drawn little critical attention; however, her short story “The Lottery” has interested some critics and puzzled many of its early readers. When the story first appeared in The New Yorker, many readers wrote the editors of the magazine asking for an explanation for the story’s meaning (Gibson 193). However, Jackson never appeased the readership with an answer. Many of the story’s critics use the scapegoat archetype as a point of departure for their criticism (Friedman; Brooks, Warren). Other critics explore various political, social or religious aspects of the story ( Allen; Bobbitt; Bagehee; Bogart; Kosenko; Nebeker),
Throughout all of the criticism, critics have neglected to analyze Jackson’s use of language in creating the story’s point of view. Jackson is successful in creating the story’s theme through her use of point of view, and she creates the story’s point of view through a mastery of linguistic tactics.
One must examine Jackson’s linguistic techniques in order to understand how the point of- view is so effective in constructing the story’s theme. Jackson’s use of third person objective point-of-view has a two-fold effect. The most obvious effect of the point-of-view is the irony and surprise at the end of the story. More subtle and effective, however, is the way the story’s point-of-view demonstrates to the reader how he blindly proceeds forward while reading the story without questioning the meaning of the lottery just as the characters blindly proceed in the action of the story. Jackson accomplishes this through her effective use of language that utilizes the reader’s presuppositions or prejudices to build the irony he experiences at the outcome of the story. Jackson creates the narrator’s objective point-of-view through the article the, the lack of adverbs and adjectives in the syntactic structures, and the use of words with ambiguous semantic descriptions.
“The Lottery’s” order of orientation begins with the time, then the participants, the place, and finally the event. Within the orientation, the narrator repeatedly uses the article the. Due to the repetition of this word, the reader is expected to share the knowledge of in what year “the morning of June 27th” takes place, what “the fresh warmth of a full-summer day” feels like, and what “the flowers” look like. The same familiarity is used by the narrator in referring to the participants. She introduces the participants as “the children,” “the men,” and “the women.” The event takes place in “the village,” and the event is “the lottery.” However, even before the orientation in the story, the reader is affected by the same technique used in the title: “The Lottery.” Jackson is highly aware of the affect the familiar use of the has on the reader. Because the article the is used frequently, the reader has no background-foreground distinction made for him; therefore, he enters the story and continues through it with his own prejudices because the narrator gives him no other information. This familiarity also gives the 3
reader a false sense of security the narrator will not violate his...