The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson

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An understanding, of Jackson’s life and times may serve to illuminate motive and meaning, thus yielding further appreciation of this work. Shirley Jackson was born 1919, in the time of the “Lost Generation”. While attending Syracuse University, she met Stanley Edgar Hyman, a classmate, Jewish intellectual numismatist and literary critic whom she married in 1940. With the War’s end in 1946, publication of “the Lottery” in 1948, and her marriage to a Jewish intellectual it seems likely that news of the Holocaust would have influenced her writing. In “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson describes a situation that aside from time and location mirrors Europe under Nazi authority.

Shirley Jackson’s allegory is simultaneously operating on different levels, texturing this narrative with diverse allusions and inferences. Within this tapestry I find a confluent theme as she demonstrates how our natural aversion to violence can be overcome by nurturing the concept of authority, and creating individual interdependence, despite our natural individual independence. Jackson implies the argument that this can be made to happen to most any individual or group. Jackson’s point is we should recognize the influences of our world, so we may not become evil.

A multitude of indications in this story verify or support the natural aversion to violence. The villagers naturally distance themselves from symbols of death and violence when they exert uncorrupted independent thought. This is evident in the following sentences from “The Lottery”, “They stood together away from the pile of stones in the corner”; “The villagers kept their distance, leaving space between themselves and the stool.” When Mr. Summers asks for assistance with the black box, we r...

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...e use of Tessie as the scapegoat, Azazel, mirrors the use of the Jews as the scapegoat for problems in Germany. In “The Lottery”, the villagers have forgotten the original reason for the ritual. Once robbed of independence by the mob, manipulated by reason, coerced by authority, and conditioned to accept it, with multiple fallacious reasons, the original reason is of little practical importance. The use of fallacious propaganda was a technique extensively employed by the Nazi party. Shirley Jackson has woven a complex allegory with near endless symbolism, uniting multiple concepts. As I read this I recognize Rousseau, as the origin for some of the ideas presented. Perhaps the greatest affirmation of her skillful artwork is that so many varying suggestions as to her theme and point exist. This I believe to be her ultimate purpose, to inspire original thought.
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