An Examination of “the Lottery” and How This Disturbing Theme Applies

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In The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, there is a grim, dark side to this apparently ordinary village (Jackson, 2004). In this tale, Jackson effectively uses irony which the reader does not fully recognize or appreciate until the end of the story. This story causes us to ask ourselves how these people could allow something this monstrous to happen to someone that they call friend and neighbor. They not only allow it, but actively participate in it. In this summary, I will be examining the story The Lottery and also looking at world issues pertaining to human rights and what responsibility we have as human beings to try and put a stop to these brutal practices that are accepted in some parts of the world.

The setting for this story is very deceiving. It takes place in a small village on a warm, sunny day. School has just let out for the summer and everyone in the village seems to be gathering for some sort of festivities. Children are playing and the townspeople are standing around talking to each other, much like friends and neighbors do everywhere. This gives the reader the illusion of a carefree, summer’s day, with some sort of perfectly ordinary town function or celebration about to take place. A picturesque setting, however, can mask an underlying wickedness. We cannot fathom from this brief glimpse of the town what kind of evil these perfectly ordinary people are capable of.

Irony comes into play as we listen to the villagers’ conversations with each other. They are conversing about mundane things like the planting of the crops and taxes; these are the casual conversations the reader might overhear anywhere. The third person narrator says that they smile rather than laugh at quiet jokes, giving us a hint that maybe the occasion is not quite as festive as it first appears. There may be a somber undertone to the gathering that we do not know about yet. While everyone seems to be friendly and genuinely like each other, we do not know that they are gathered here together to kill one of their own; therein lies the irony.

While the adults talk, some of the boys are gathering stones and putting them in their pockets, while another small group assembles a pile of stones and rocks into a pile in the village square. The reader is not yet aware of the significance of these stones; maybe the stones have some part in a game played by the villagers later. The irony, of course, is that these stones are going to be used to stone someone in their village to death.

The black box used for the lottery is used as a symbol in this story. This box is painted black, which is a color associated with death. From this black box, names will be drawn and a death will follow. The box has been remade from necessity a long time ago, and it was rumored that parts of the very first box had been used to make this one. The shabbiness and age of the box symbolizes the how very old the lottery tradition is. Even now, it is faded, stained, and splintered, and the villagers do not want to upset tradition by building a new one. For me, that box represented a tradition that dealt out death.

The characters are all very believable, like people we all know in our own towns. Some of them have symbolic names that suggest the parts that they play in this story. The two men who appear to run the lottery are named Summers and Graves. The two names are polar opposites of each other. The name Summers suggests the outward mood toward the lottery that is taking place. Summer is a carefree time, sunny and full of life, and this is our first impression of the gathering. Graves, on the other hand, refers to the underlying tone of the lottery. Graves could refer to the gravity of the situation, or the dead lying in a grave. After Mr. Graves first appears and asks for help to set the black box up, it appears that the townspeople are not anxious to be near him, and only help reluctantly. The reader does not know if they are apprehensive of Mr. Graves, the black box, or...
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