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Lottery by Shirley Jackson Shirley Jackson is a famous American writer. She was a master of short stories and novels. All her works are considered to rather strange, odd and deathly. They are filled with sense of doom, despair with inevitable horrific ending.
But her novels and stories are framed by ordinary characters and surrounding. (Friedman 1975) It is known that practically all of her stories are connected with psychological and supernatural factors, with terror and identity. For example, her first novel The Road through the Wall was written about the problems of disturbed adolescents. The motives of her stories are rather dark, because Shirley was always interested in black magic. But people were surprised when she wrote many humorous books about her children and domestic life. (Friedman 1975) Jacksons most famous short story is Lottery published in 1948. This story is a combination of pastoral and town settings and, of course, with horrifying ending.
After publication this short story became a real sensation. This story was called extraordinary and shocking. People were shocked by the plot of the short story which was about an ordinary American small town. But this town had a secret, there were annual sacrifices. Many people liked the story and many people considered it disgusting and terrible.
There were contradiction expressions and opinions as to this story. Some people think that the story is remarkable because of its tremendous shock in the end. A lot of readers demanded an explanation of the story and its strange situation. But Shirley Jackson answered: 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. (Friedman 1975) Practically the whole story was written in realistic manner: the day is special one. People are presented as friendly, decent neighbors.
The details are used to picture the idyll in small town. The events and facts in the story are told in easy way like in chronicle, because in the first paragraph the place and date were mentioned by the author. The shock in the middle of the story is deepen by Shirley's narrative style, which remains ordinary and calm without any changes. She wrote as if nothing unusual took place. It was mentioned by Heilman that more important in building up an unusually strong sense of expectation is the entire absence of explanation of the public ceremony. (Heilman 1950) But after reading the story it becomes clear that although the story is written in realistic style, the ending is not realistic at all. The ending is mentioned to be symbolic.
It is evident that style changes from realistic to symbolic without any shifts and notices. The change of style is unexpected and sudden. (Friedman 1975) To continue the theme of storys symbolism it is interesting to mention the black box and three-legged stool. Many critics consider them as the main symbols in Lottery. Helen Nebeker thinks that they are the symbols which hold the key to Jacksons conclusive theme. (Nebeker 1986) For Shirley the black box was the body of tradition involving religion, mores, and culture in the whole. The shock is also one of the main symbols in the short story. As it was mentioned the shock should have the effect of shaking up the accustomed habits of mind and, therefore, of compelling a more incisive observation of familiar ways of life. (384) Also it is necessary to admit that it is rather difficult to suggest the combination of harmless with sinister in the story from the very beginning.
It was an ideal method, because such coexistence is permissible for humans. The story turned out to be really sinister after the calm and innocent start. (Friedman 1975) It is possible only for experienced reader to realize what the intention of Shirley Jackson was. She combined reality with extreme antiquity. She combined ceremonial sacrifice of chosen scapegoat and contemporary life in ordinary American town.
Shirley wanted to say that although such ancient rituals are dead, the habits are still alive. Contemporary society is able to find its own scapegoat and sacrifice him / her in contemporary manner. But the result will be the same. This statement is the hidden sense of the story.
Shirley wanted to reveal the truth that the times had changed but peoples minds hadnt. (Friedman 1975) Lottery portrays an ordinary village in America with its ordinary citizens who are busy with their daily routine and drudgery. The annual victim, for sacrifice is chosen by means of simple public lottery. But the lottery is not as simple as it may seem for the first time. The sacrifice victim is the winner of the lottery, not the looser.
The victim has to be stoned to death by other residents of the small town. The idea of such choosing sounds really awful and terrible, because the winner gains death. In such way Jackson shocked readers. The whole story is the symbolic complexity. There were two main critical attitudes.
The first point is about constant aggressiveness of man and efforts to find a scapegoat in all difficult situations. The second point is victimization of man by unexamined and unchanging traditions which he could easily change if he only realized their implications. (Nebeker 1986) It can be admitted that lottery is some kind of ideological mechanism. Its aim is to intensify the hierarchy in the village, because people are afraid to become the next victim if they resist the order. The lottery is the common practice in the village.
Friedman noticed that in the process of creating this fear, it also reproduces the ideology necessary for the smooth functioning of that social order, despite its inherent inequities. (Friedman 1975) Shirley Jackson has never been Marxist and her idea of social order and ideological mechanism belong to capitalism. The world of Jacksons lottery is readers world, because the reader is the direct consumer. The small town where all events takes place is just a common and unremarkable village with a post office, central bank, schools, grocery and even with coal industry. The women in that village are ordinary housewives; they dont work in the field unlike their husbands.
The village men are talking only about taxes and tractors, about weather and money. What is more important is that the village has economic and social structure similar to capitalistic stratification. (Friedman 1975) It would be logical to discuss firstly the top of the social ladder and only then the lower. The owner of the largest business and the major in the village is Mr. Summer. He is the most powerful man in society.
He has more time and energy to devote to civic activities than others. (Friedman 1975) The surname Summers is a slight hint at his wealth. The second man in the village is Mr. Graves, who is postmaster and government official. Finally the third representative of the top is Mr. Martin. He is the possessor of economically profitable position.
Mr. Martin is the owner of the grocery store. He supplies good for three hundred of people. It goes without saying that these three tops control the village politically and economically. They are administers of the lottery.
Such situation is similar in contemporary world. If a person has lots of money and power, he considers himself a leader and thinks he has the right to rule sway destines. (Friedman 1975) Mr. Summers with Mr. Graves make up lottery slips and steady the lottery black box when the slips are in it. When there is no necessity to choose the winner the box is stored in their residences: It had spent on year in Mr. Graves' barn and another year underfoot in the post-office, and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there. (Friedman 1975) It is evident that these three men control the lottery, because they control the whole village, they have complete power in society.
They are masters. Mr. Martin and Mr. Graves are important persons in the village, but the most powerful remains Mr.
Summers. The blackness of his coal business reveals in the lottery slip. It is also a symbolic moment. When Tessie is forced to see her lottery slip, she finds there a big black spot black as coal of Mr. Summers. (Friedman 1975) The social hierarchy is obvious in the village. A glaring example is the participation in lottery.
Therefore the rules of lottery reflect rigid hierarchy of village citizens; the hierarchy is based on unequal division of labor. Everyone in society takes part in lottery, therefore it is possible to say that lottery is rather democratic. It is a pity that many citizens believe that hard work and ethic will ensure them additional immunity in lottery. But they cant get the idea that the function of the lottery is not to stimulate their work, but to intensify the social inequality. The choice of Tessie as a scapegoat shows that lottery is ideological mechanism, which serves to defuse the average villager's deep, inarticulate dissatisfaction with the social order in which he lives by channeling it into anger directed at the victims of that social order. (Friedman 1975) Because of this ideology Summers, Graves and Martis remain always in power. It is seen in the story that the power is absolutely consolidated in mens hands.
Women have practically no rights. Women are disenfranchised because it is the men who are the heads of households and workers in the field. Men are the link between the village economy and economy in their households. (Friedman 1975) The first round of lottery is the families of Watsons and Dunbar's. For example, Mr. Durban cant participate in the lottery, because his leg is broken.
Such accidents are taken into account by lottery. Men have the priority to participate the first and women take part in the lottery after them or instead of them. As the son of Mr. Durban is only sixteen and is a schoolboy it is Mrs.
Durban who chooses for her husband. Father of Jack Watson is dead, but he is older than the son of Durban's and he works. According to the lottery rules the head of the house is the oldest working man, who contributes to economy of the village. (Friedman 1975) Women choose the lottery only if the working man is absent. Women have only the second position in the village social hierarchy. As it was mentioned in the story they wear faded dresses. It means that they work at home and they dont contribute to economy as men.
Women are treated by men and are inferior. Many women get used to such hierarchy and take it for granted. But Tessie is the only woman who rebels such men domination, but she says nothing about it. (Friedman 1975) For the first glance the idea of lottery where everyone has the same chance seems to be democratic. The lottery suggests election rather than selection, since "the [villagers] assemble in the center of the place, in the village square. (Friedman 1975) Such elections refer to capitalistic system, in which business structures promote candidates, provide support and financing as in Jacksons story. In the story the ruling class takes part in the lottery with the intention to prove that everyone has equal chances. In order to convince people that he is a common person, Summers wear simple jeans, but he also wears white skirt which is the evidence of the ruling class.
Mr. Martins and Mr. Graves the other members of his class, and seem very proper and important. Jackson focuses on these details. (Friedman 1975) It is necessary to admit that democratic illusion of the lottery is an ideological effect that prevents the villagers from criticizing the class structure of their society. (Friedman 1975) Because of the lottery rules and division of labor women remain powerless in their homes and society and in contrast Summers remains wealthy businessman. There is a question: why Shirley chose Tessie as the lottery winner. Why not Dunbar or Warner?
It would be an example of connection between work ethic and lottery. But her choice is another. Tessie Hutchinson. Why she? The explanation is rather simple, because Tessie is a woman and her role of housewife deprives her of her freedom by forcing her to submit to a husband who gains his power over her by virtue of his place in the work force. (Friedman 1975) Tessie is the example of strong social inequality and labor division. She tried to rebel, but unfortunately unconscious.
She was late for the lottery and therefore she tried to rebel. It is her mistake which raises suspicions among people. Her second mistakes were that she neglected social labor division. And her final mistake was her question about the rules of the lottery which relegate women to inferior status as the property of their husbands. (Friedman 1975) To sum up it is necessary to point out the most depressive moment of the short story. It is the blindness of people. This story can be named as pessimistic vision of social transformation.
The Lottery is the exaggeration of capitalism. No doubt, capitalism has subtle ways of redirecting the frustrations it engenders away from a critique of capitalism itself. (Friedman 1975) The story is really shocking and depressive, but it reveals the truth: contemporary society always need some scapegoat. But there will be always people, who will try to change the rules and norms in society, there will be always people who will struggle for equality of people. (Friedman 1975) Works cited Friedman, Lenemaja Shirley Jackson. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975. Hyman, Stanley Edgar.
The Magic of Shirley Jackson. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966. Heilman, Robert B. Shirley Jackson. 'The Lottery: Comment, " in Modern Short Stories: A Critical Anthology, ed. Robert B.
Heilman. New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovic h, 1950. p. 384 - 385 Nebeker, Helen E. 'The Lottery: Symbolic Tour de Force. American Literature March 1974. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Bloom, Harold.
American Women Fiction Writers, 1900 - 1960. Philadelphia: Chelsea House 2000.
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