Summary of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson
"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson has two main characters, a housewife named Tessie Hutchinson, who is the person who wins the lottery at the end, and Mr. Summers, the man who organizes the lottery. Mr. Summers had brought the black box for the drawing with all the little white pieces of paper in it and he calls everyone up to pick them out. Tessie Hutchinson argues about how the lottery isn't fair and how her husband didn't have enough time to pick a piece of paper. All of the other characters in this story all play a significant role by just saying a few words and by helping throw the stones at Tessie.
The lottery written by Shirley Jackson is regarded as one of the best short stories to have ever been written in American history, the story deals with a barbaric tradition of stoning people to death and Tessie the central character of the story succumbs to her injuries. This paper will shed light upon the short story; key elements will be comprehensively analyzed. Human nature is presented in the lottery, the barbaric tradition of stone throwing just never stops, this goes to show that human beings refrain from standing up against something which they consider inappropriate. No one stood up to save Tessie; she was killed after winning the lottery. The jumping of human beings on the bandwagon is also another important theme of this short story; we usually tend to do what others are doing. We join them regardless of the consequences; this is very shameful and should never be done. Stone throwing has been presented as a tradition in the story. “It seems as though we sometimes condemn everyday truths that we know are characteristics of most people, including ourselves, and being afraid to admit them, place the spotlight on someone else. It is sad and definitely hypocritical, but it happens all the time. And I think Shirley Jackson makes this point without having to say a word about it. It is the thousands of readers who replied to “The Lottery”, in disapproval and horror that blindly proved Jackson’s theories valid and unknowingly portrayed themselves as not very unlike the villagers in the short story.”
The aftermath of The Lottery and the readers’ reaction to the short story proves that its plot impressed the readers recognizing it as the reflection of their lives. After the short story was published in The New Yorker in 1948, the author received hundreds of hostile letters from the readers objecting to the brutal ending of the story. “As Jackson noted in her witty essay Biography of a Story, many of the letters she received that summer were from people who wanted to know whether these lotteries are held and whether they could go there and watch” (Murphy 104). The debates concerning the actual location of these rites prove that the line between the fiction and reality as perceived by the readers appeared to be unclear. Hypocritically concealing their fear of becoming a scapegoat, not feeling empathy with Tessie Hutchinson who becomes a victim and not having moral strength and common sense to abandon the meaningless rite, the characters of the short story have a strong resemblance to modern readers. “The contradictions of myth and ideology, the imaginary solutions to real problems, emerge in the specific rituals that ostensibly endorse the myth and ideology” (Hattenhauer 44). Thus, the plot of the short story can be regarded as the exaggerated reflection of the phenomenon of scapegoating as the imaginary solution to the real problems of the modern community.
In sum, the reader later finds out about the unusual ritual this town practices and the entire tone of the story changes. There are two main symbols in this story, one being old man Warner, and the second being the black box. Both of these symbols give the reader a sense of tradition, with Mr. Warner not wanting to stop the lottery, and with the black box being nothing more than a symbol. Jackson leaves her audience with a great theme that can be applied to any society and any time period.
Hattenhauer, Darryl. Shirley Jackson’s American Gothic. State University of New York Press, 2003. Print.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. Mankato: Creative Education, 2008. Print.
Murphy, Bernice. Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy. Jefferson: McFarland & Company Publishers. Print.