Satire/Irony in ‘the Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson

Topics: The Lottery, Irony, Short story Pages: 6 (2043 words) Published: October 27, 2010
Satire/Irony in ‘The Lottery’: The Lucky Ticket

The use of Satire/Irony within literature establishes situations where the unlikelihood of the occurrence of an event will happen. Jackson’s manipulation of his story, The Lottery, provides an unexpected twist to what one may seem to be a normal subject. Northrop Frye’s The Singing School, suggests that all stories are told in either one of four ways: Comedy, Romance, Tragedy or Satire/Irony (Frye 18). The use of Irony and its conventional associations eludes the reader from interpreting a story as a Romance, but instead give the reader a reversed twist. This use of ironic convention in literary work is seen through Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery; the story of Tessie Hutchinson, stoned to death after winning her village’s annual lottery. Thus, The Lottery, according to Northrop Frye’s literary model, is a Satire/Irony.

Jackson’s use of The Lottery as both the title and event, along with its conventional associations is ironically reversed in the end. A lottery, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among a group of people by lot or by chance are distributed to the winners among persons buying a chance (Webster’s Dictionary). The lucky winner of the lottery reaps the benefit of his/her luck and wins the prize of whatever being drawn. The lottery within the story, however, is of a different intention, whereby the winner of the lottery receives the prize of death. The story’s main character and lottery winner, Mrs. Hutchinson, is brutally stoned to death by the rest of the village as a result of an annual tradition for the well being of a bountiful harvest. The irony that resides within the lottery remains evident for the reason that the winner of the lottery still remains a loser. Mrs. Hutchinson is the ultimate loser, for her prize is the taking away of her life. In most lotteries, only one winner is chosen leaving the rest as losers in jealousy and awe. In this predicament, however, Mrs. Hutchinson’s winning ticket, ironically making her the ultimate loser, despite her favourable luck, leaving everyone else as the ultimate winners. The Lottery is an ironic mess, because the natural response to winning this lottery is grim. Participants of a lottery want to win for a chance of a new life and a new beginning. However, in this story, the villagers refuse winning, because the wonderful prize waiting for the winner is bleak—a very cruel death.

Jackson uses a romantic setting ironically all throughout, up to the horrible and unexpected ending. The story begins with a setting described as: “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day” (Jackson 875). This description is fitting to Frye’s explanation of the literary cycle, where the repetition in nature consists of all the elements of a Romance. The concept of repetition and recurrence (according to Frye) is evident in all forms of literature (Frye 19). A statement from Frye’s The Singing School says:

In nature the most obvious repeating or recurring feature is the cycle. The sun travels across the sky into the dark and comes back again; the seasons go from spring to winter and back to spring again; water goes from springs or fountains to the sea and back again in rain. Human life goes from childhood to death and back again in new birth. (Frye 18-19) Jackson’s descriptions of the bright and perfect setting in the beginning of the story all connect to Frye’s conventional associations with Romance. The concepts of summer, sun, and “warmth of a full-summer day” all suit the idea of the “ideal world”, where everything is at its zenith. This perfect setting of the Romantic archetype can only lead to the atrocious story ending that completely opposes its bright and perfect beginning. The Romantic convention, (according to Frye’s literary cycle) sits superior to the Satire/Irony below it, and therefore,...

Cited: Frye, Northrop. The Singing School. Toronto: CBC Enterprises, 1991. 18-19. Print.
Jackson, Shirley, and . The Lottery. Toronto: Hardcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992. 874- 881. Print.
“Lottery." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010.
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