Selective Exposition in The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson

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Usually when someone hears the word “lottery” the first thing that comes to mind is a large sum of cash that people compete against highly impractical odds to win. Shirley Jackson’s story The Lottery might imply a similar conception based on the title alone, but the story is filled with unknowns never revealing exactly when and where the story takes place, or why the lottery exists; even what the lottery is isn’t revealed until the very end. Yet despite Jackson’s omission of details in The Lottery, she manages to create an overtone of mystery that compels the reader to grasp the world of the story rather than define it in terms of the physical world and form their own opinions.

Often in stories, setting is a key element, and that the more detailed the setting, the more believable the world of the story is. Jackson does not follow this style in her story; the only real information Jackson gives the reader about the world of The Lottery, is that it takes place on “The morning of June 27th...” and “...in this village there were only about three hundred people...” (235). It’s obvious that this is not a world driven story, since so few details are given about the village it takes place in. However Jackson is not the only author to incorporate a lack of exposition. Raymond Carver, wrote in a similar fashion, using very little details under the realization that: “...it’s possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those tings...with immense, even startling power” (qtd. in May 48). The lack of details broadens the mystery of the story, and presents the opportunity for the reader to fill in the blanks such as time in place; by allowing the reader ...

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...ng the revelation of what the lottery is to be all the more shocking. By using this selective exposition, Jackson effectively creates a mystery in which the reader is free to piece together the snippets of information to make sense of the world of the story, rather than create an imitation of reality by overloading the reader with details. Doing so, demonstrates that the subtlety of writing, can move a story forward as effectively, as bold exposition.

Works Cited

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” Literature and Its Writers: A Compact Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 5th Ed. Ann Charters and Samuel Charters. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. Book.

May, Charles E. “‘Do You See What I’m Saying?’: The Inadequacy of Explanation and the Uses of Story in the Short Fiction of Raymond Carver.” The Yearbook of English Studies. Vol. 31. 2001. 39-49. Essay.

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