Published by Penguin Classics on June 26th 1948
Genres: Classics, Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic, Literary Fiction
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Shirley Jackson's unnerving, macabre tale of random cruelty, The Lottery is one of the most iconic stories ever written, and a touchstone for writers such as Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. "Shirley Jackson's stories are among the most terrifying ever written". (Donna Tartt). Every year the villagers gather. They can't remember when the Lottery started. Much of the original ceremony has been forgotten or discarded; the first black box lost. But the ritual always ends in the same way...Shirley Jackson's chilling tales of creeping unease and casual cruelty have the power to unsettle and terrify unlike any other.
‘The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock.’
In a seemingly normal town, everyone gathers together to conduct the annual traditional lottery. What is the lottery exactly? Well, you don’t truly discover the magnitude of its horror until the final passage. A lottery is typically a good thing but in this small town its anything but. Certain things throughout this short story hint at what’s to come: the nervous energy of the people, the implication that the lottery serves a purpose regarding the future of the crops, and the piles of stones that the kids begin to gather.
What made this story the eeriest is the whole mystery behind the lottery. No one truly knows when it actually started, why it ever started, only that it is and must keep going for tradition’s sake. It’s mentioned that other towns have done away with the practice and the idea is immediately dismissed as folly. Just the concept of not doing the lottery, of doing away with tradition, is enough to frighten everyone not knowing the possible implications not doing it would cause.
This patriarchal society in the unnamed village has the men draw the slip of paper that ultimately decides whether their family is the selected recipient of the lottery. The only instance where this differs is when the man is unable to attend the lottery (such as the man named Dunbar that was home with a broken leg) or if an elder son is able to draw for his mother if she doesn’t have a husband. Once selected, each individual (even women) are then given their opportunity to select their own piece of paper. Published in 1948, Shirley Jackson’s short story is a telling criticism of the powerlessness that women faced, and unfortunately still face to this day. While the idea of the lottery is clearly exaggerated, the idea of the strength and fierceness of traditions and patriarchy is extremely realistic.
“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right.”