Saturday, February 19, 2011

Short Story Spotlight: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Readers who answered my Dystopian August survey said one of the things they'd like me to do is to spotlight books I've read in the past but not reviewed.


One of the most memorable dystopian short stories I've ever read is The Lottery.  If you haven't read it, head over and read it now.  Then come back for a discussion.
 
Probably the creepiest part of the whole story is the tone.  The people in the village act like the lottery is completely normal, acceptable part of village life.  Check out this sentence for example: 

The lottery was conducted--as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program--by Mr. Summers, who had time and energy to devote to civic activities.




As early as the second paragraph, though, you get a sense that something's not quite right when the boys busy themselves by gathering stones.


I think it's really effective how Jackson introduces Mrs. Hutchinson, the main character. She's late.
Just as Mr. Summers finally left off talking and turned to the assembled villagers, Mrs. Hutchinson came hurriedly along the path to the square, her sweater thrown over her shoulders, and slid into place in the back of the crowd. "Clean forgot what day it was," she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly.
Doesn't bode well for her, does it?  Of course, there's also the fact that Mrs. Hutchinson is just as into it as anyone until her family is chosen.  And when she's the one in her family who gets the penciled x, it is chilling how her children react.

The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles.
 FREAKY!

So what do you think?

18 comments:

Simply_Megan said...

I read this short story in 9th grade and loved it! I'm not usually a big fan of short stories but this one got it right. So creepy! And looking back, this reminds me a lot of The Hunger Games - I'm sure Suzanna Collins read this before she wrote the books.

Kailana said...

I am not big on short stories, either, but I always found this one effective. I just read it again to refresh my memory and it wasn't really necessary at all. It is a story that sticks with you...

Lesley D said...

I totally agree with @Simply_Megan. When I read the Hunger Games I said, "This is just like The Lottery!" I also read it in high school and it's one of the stories that got me hooked on horror, dystopian settings, and the macabre.

Amanda said...

I have this one and a couple others of hers on audio. I'm planning to listen to them when RIP season comes around! :D

ps - thanks for the warning on Brett Easten Ellis. In the middle of commenting back to you I realized who he was and you're very right. There's no way I'm reading any of his books!

Vampires and Tofu said...

This was my first time reading The Lottery. Wow. Incredibly disturbing and, like Kailana said, effective!

The Book Muncher said...

I read this last year in my English class. I thought it was really sad and creepy, but at the same time really good. I love how it's called The Lottery though, because lotteries generally make you think of winning something (good) or the like, but this lottery was just terrible.

Natalie (Mindful Musings) said...

I absolutely adore this story! No matter how many times I read it, I always find something that I hadn't noticed before.

Ladytink_534 said...

I remember reading this a few times in high and middle school. I always thought it was creepy but kind of neat. Probably the first dystopian I ever read.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I taught this short story with my advanced sixth and seventh-grade English classes when we studied different types of conflict in literature.

It really hit home for them esp., I think, because the early teens years are often about following blindly.

Audrey (holes In My brain) said...

Despite reading this was school-related, can't deny I definitely enjoyed it. It's one i easily recommend when people ask for short story suggestions (which quite honestly, isn't that often). anyways, Shirley jackson writes some excellent SS :) thanks for spotlighting it!

Emy Shin said...

This is infinitely creepy due to the tone. It definitely reminds me of HUNGER GAMES, as well.

Danny Pettry said...

This was the first time I've read this short story. I'm 31.

Did I miss this in school?

This is a very distrubing distopia. I found it very upsetting.

I think it is good for teens to read. I think a good post-discussion should be about conformity (doing what others are doing), empathy (how do other people feel).

I wonder why they have the lottery. Based on the story, I understood that they always had it and that is the way it is meant to be.

This story reminded me of a late 90s music video for the song "Man that you fear" by Marilyn Manson.

I did a quick google search and discovered that the music video was in reference to random nature of the stoning is a reference to the Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." I never knew that until now.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_That_You_Fear

lulilut said...

I first read it in school as well. Thanks for providing the link.

Lenore said...

Megan, Lesley, Emy - I could see this being an inspiration for the Hunger Games. Totally.

Kailana - I saw it as a play for the first in 4th grade and I still can't get the images out of my head!

Amanda - I should definitely read other SS of hers.

Book Muncher - Yes! The title is great!

Lenore said...

Caroline - Very true!

Danny - Based on some of the comments from the old man, I got the impression that the lottery was some sort of fertility rite to produce a good harvest. When someone says that he's heard that other towns have done away with The Lottery, he calls those people fools and says there is no good that will come out of that.

Aarti said...

I have read this one- I definitely got The Hunger Games references as well (or, vice versa, really, as this was written earlier). It is a very frightening story. But a GREAT one for discussion.

Zibilee said...

I read this story in high-school and can't describe the multitude of emotions that it made me have. It was very frightening, and when I finally realized what was going on I was just kind of shocked. A great story by a great author. Glad you decided to talk about this one.

Okie said...

Thanks for the reminder of this story. It was disturbing, but you've got me wanting to go back and read it again.

Great post. :)