Story Analysis of ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson

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It’s Day 17 of the #A2ZChallenge. This year, I invite you to read and discuss short stories with me. Each day, I bring you a ‘Read of the Day,’ a short story in English, so that we can indulge in the joy of reading. You can visit my site daily for a short story with analysis and participate in the discussion in the comments.

Read of the Day 

Today, we will read The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. You can read the short story online here.

About the Author 

Shirley Jackson was an American writer famous for her writings in the horror and mystery genres. She has over 200 short stories, six novels, and two memoirs to her credit. Some of her popular writings include the iconic short story, The Lottery, and her novels, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Several contemporary writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Sarah Waters, Joanne, Harris, and Richard Matheson cite her as a major literary influence.

Story Analysis 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson was first published in The New Yorker, June 1948 issue. It’s a stunning piece of fiction that tells us that horror lies not just outside of us but also inside of us. 

The story is deceptive, as it’s set against the backdrop of a sleepy small American town. It’s funny how I’ve been similarly fooled in the past by the thought that seemingly simple people from small towns and villages are innocent. I’ve learned the hard way that they are capable of great evil too. 

The Lottery brilliantly taps into that fallacy of small-town people and the facade of simplicity and naivety that we attribute to them. The story is about an American village in which there is an annual tradition of playing the lottery. A practice that’s been discontinued in the other American towns. Much to the anger and disappointment of Old Man Warner, the oldest man in this town, and hence, the most respected authority figure as well. 

“Old man Warner snorted, ‘Pack of crazy fools,’ he said, ‘listening to the young folks, nothings good enough for them.’”

Traditional systems, including patriarchy, is valued in this village. We see how the villagers are shocked when Mr. Summers, the one in charge of the lottery in their village, suggests doing away with the black box. Mr. Summers is another authoritative figure who conducts the lottery in the town, and the one change he’s made is to substitute the stones for paper chits. But that change was driven by practicality than the intent to bring social change. The stones wouldn’t fit in the black box anymore with the increasing population in the village.

There are clear social division lines in the village as men take on powerful roles, and women subservient ones. We see how the men are engaged in important discussions while women gossip. The women are burdened by domestic responsibilities and appear in jaded clothes. In contrast, the men wear sparkling clean and fashionable clothes. The men display strictness towards their women, while their boys see all females as weak and nonsubstantial to human existence. Women are seen as replaceable commodities in the patriarchal framework.  

We’d usually think of the lottery as a game of chance, but in The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson, it’s the patriarchy at play here. We see this through the character of Tessie Hutchinson, the female protagonist, who’s relatively more woke than her female peers. Even though she’s a victim of patriarchy, she has her own way of resistance and rebellion, like her late arrival for the lottery, her loud dissent against her husband, and vocal opposition at the results of the lottery. 

“Wouldn’t have me leave m’dishes in the sink, now, would you, Joe?”

Tessie questioned her husband in front of the whole crowd, a rarity in the village where women are expected to remain quiet and subservient to men. She is the lone warrior in this story against a rigid, traditional, patriarchal system that benefits the powerful men and their enablers in rendering weakness upon the female population.

The men control all decision-making which the women are expected to obey without a murmur. Anyone who disagrees with this system is seen as a threat. 

A girl whispers, “I hope it’s not Nancy.” 

The young girl is petrified for her friend and shows compassion in her statement. But the girl’s remark angers Old Man Warner, who thinks any woman should consider it her honour to be the chosen one. 

The ending of this horror story is a shocker, but then expected with the pretence of fairness in the chance game of the lottery. 

Not surprisingly, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson received a lot of public hate and criticism when it was first published in The New Yorker. It was an honest story from the female perspective, which was ignored until then. And when such a story cropped up on the scene, questioning the established system, all hell broke loose. The Lottery generated the most hate mail in The New Yorker magazine’s history, and subscriptions were cancelled. The Union of South Africa banned Shirley Jackson’s story The Lottery. 

However, The Lottery made Shirley Jackson a timeless literary figure though she was mocked back in her day. The story became an inspiration for several motion pictures, television, radio, and theatrical shows. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is mandatory reading in US high schools. 

The story’s ending, which created a furore back when it was first published, is its main strength. The story is, in many ways, a tease. You think it’s going in a certain direction, as all lottery games are expected to. Before you realise its sinister implications, the horror fully unleashes upon you and grips you in a frightening numb. 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a highly atmospheric horror story that brilliantly portrays the dark side of tradition, the isolation of its women, and their continued persecution for society’s well-being and honour.

Did you like the horror story?


*I’m participating in the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge.

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Tina Sequeira
Tina Sequeira is a marketer and moonlighting writer. She is passionate about tech, creativity, and social justice—dabbling in and writing about the same.