The Lottery

This study guide will help you analyse the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it.

Presentation of the text

Title: “The Lottery” (1948)
Author: Shirley Hardie Jackson
Genre: Short story

Shirley Jackson (1919-1965) was an American writer of short stories and novels. She also published two memoirs. Jackson is known especially for her works of mystery and horror. Jackson’s 1959 novel “The Haunting of Hill House” is widely considered one of the best horror novels ever written. 

The short story “The Lottery” first appeared in The New Yorker magazine in June 1948. Its publication received unexpected attention from the readership. The magazine reportedly received a large amount of phone calls and letters from readers who demanded the story to be explained. Others cancelled their subscription to The New Yorker or sent hate mail to both the magazine and the writer.

Excerpt

Below you can read an excerpt from our study guide:

Tradition

The villagers seem to go along with the lottery because it is a “given” in their society. Old Man Warner at one point offers a hint that the original purpose of the lottery might have been some kind of religious sacrifice to ensure a good harvest: “ ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon’ ” . However, most of the villagers simply seem to go along with it because it is a tradition, without really questioning its purpose. 

They do not want to replace the old ballot box: “no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box” which shows their fear of breaking the lottery’s rules. However, they have also allowed parts of the custom to disappear, perhaps as a symptom of the fact that few people know what the tradition means anymore: “at one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort There had been, also, a ritual salute but this also changed with time” .

 

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The Lottery

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