The Lottery By Shirley Jackson: Cruelty and Human Nature

The Lottery By Shirley Jackson: Cruelty and Human Nature

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"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson: Cruelty or Human Nature?
Shirley Jackson, the author of the short story, "The Lottery", is the daughter of Beatrice and George Jackson. Jackson was born on August 5th, in 1946. Some background on Jackson is that she graduated college with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ("Shirley Ann Jackson") Jackson had many accomplishments in her lifetime. She received many awards, metals, and honors. Jackson was appointed to chair the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, she was elected as chairman of the newly formed International Nuclear Regulators Association, and she then joined the ranks of U.S. college presidents on July 1, 1999, where she assumed the top position at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She was featured on the cover of the March issue of Black Issue in Higher Education. Jackson graduated from Roosevelt High School as valedictorian of her class ("Shirley Ann Jackson"). Shirley Jackson is most remembered for her being a Theoretical Physics and getting good grades, because that is what got her where she was at (Shirley Ann Jackson). A list of her works:
• The Road Through the Wall, 1948
• The Lottery, or, The adventures of James Harris, 1949
• The Lottery, 1950
• Hangsaman, 1951
• Life Among the Savages, 1953
• The Birds Nest, 1954
• The Witchcraft of Salem Village, 1956
• Raising Demon, 1957
• The Sundial, 1958
• The Haunting of Hill House, 1959
• The Bad Children, 1959
• We Have Always Lived in the Castle, 1962
• Nine Magic Wishes, 1963
• Famous Sally, 1966
• Come Along With Me, 1968 (Ward 7)

Shirley Jackson is a contradiction or perhaps just the other side of the idea of an author who fails to make any impression during their lifetime, and is only later discovered by a new generation. Ms. Jackson is an author who was successful both popularly and critically in her short working life, who is now almost forgotten, a thing both unreasonable and criminal (Ward 1). In a brief personal sketch produced for Twentieth Century Authors, she stated "I very much dislike writing about myself or my work, and when pressed for autobiographical material can only give a bare chronological outline which contains naturally, no pertinent facts" (Ward 2). Jackson kept to herself for most of her life.
One piece of work that Jackson got published was the story "The Lottery". This story was published in the June 28, 1948 issue of the New Yorker.

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It received a response that "no New Yorker story had ever received" (Shirley Ann Jackson). There was a very conventional way of reading it; one that both touches upon a basic human truth and offers fairly little offense to anyone (The Brothers Judd 1). People were criticizing it and characterizing it by "bewilderment, speculation, old-fashioned abuse." ("A Reading" 1). In the July 22, 1948 issue of the Francisco Chronicle Jackson broke down and said the following in response to persistent queries from her readers of her intentions: "Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives." ("A Reading" 1). She definitely shocked her readers with her response.
A survey of what little has been written about "The Lottery" reveals two general critical attitudes: first that it is about man's ineradicable primitive aggressively, or as Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren calls his "all-too-human tendency to seize upon a scapegoat", second, is describes man's victimization by, in Helen Nebeker's words, "unexamined and unchanging traditions which I could easily change if he only realized their implications." ("A Reading" 1). According to J.D. Chandler, Jackson seems to be conveying two main messages in this story. First she is telling us that the rural life we idolize in America, "the good old days", has terrible secrets at its very heart. She symbolically exposes the horror that supports the "good" life. Secondly she is illustrating the sacrifice of women. The American society that Shirley Jackson belonged to, and commented on in her writing, was one that depended on women for their work. It also demanded that a woman sacrifice herself and her ambitions, if they included anything besides raising a family, to the god of domesticity. Jackson starkly portrays the sacrifice that has been a part of the lives of all women ("Conflict" 2).
Was Jackson going for Cruelty or Human Nature? Theme involves ideas and insights. Theme carries the story, so without it you would not have a story that makes sense to the readers. McMahan, Day, and Funk write that "theme is the central or dominating idea advanced by a literary work, usually containing some insight into the human condition" (1105). In "The Lottery" setting and atmosphere, symbolism and character betrayal reveals a great deal about society and human nature.
The setting made my Jackson in the beginning of "The Lottery" creates peacefulness. The lottery begins happily "on a clear and sunny [day], with fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green" (Jackson 83-84). While the boys run around piling up stones. It begins as a perfect day. This setting creates an image in the mind of a typical town on a normal summer day. To begin, she tells the reader what time of day and what time of yea the story takes place. This is important to get the reader to focus on what a day is like in this small town. The time of day is set in the morning and the time of year is early summer. The town is a normal community. The town square is an important location for the setting since the ending of the story will take place there. The setting reveals the way the town is and it reflects on human nature and society.
Shirley Jackson maintains the comfortable atmosphere while introducing the people of the town. First, she describes the children coming and breaking into, "boisterous play" (Jackson 84). Finally, she describes the women of this community as "exchanging bits of gossip" (Jackson 84) which is common. Again, she creates a mood for the reader of small-town-residents on a normal summer morning. Up to this point in the story Jackson has not pointed out anything out of the ordinary which would create an ironic ending. As you start reading more of the story Jackson gives the reader small hints about the town. She points out the fact that the children are building "a great pile of stones in one corner of the square" (Jackson 84). She makes it seem normal that the children are gathering these rocks for what's happening later on in the day. These points might scare the readers and make the reader think that this town is not quite normal.
The introduction of the black box or the lottery box is the obvious key turning point. The black box symbolizes a wrongful act to the villagers. This is true in the fact that the villagers kept their distance from the black box. The introduction of the black box into the setting changes the mood and the atmosphere; it causes the villagers become uneasy around it. The black box is the key that changes the moos from peaceful to threatening. The reader starts to feel more and more uncomfortable, where as the everyday attitude of the townspeople remains the same, except for the victim. The strongest symbol in the story is the letterbox. It is painted black (which symbolizes death), stained (probably with blood), and worn-out. The box itself represents the bloody tradition of the lottery, yet even though it is worn out, people don't want to replace the box. They even refuse to fix the box although it is not the original black box.
One major point in the story has to do with Jackson's selection of Tessie Hutchinson as the lottery's victim/scapegoat. She could have chosen Mr. Dunbar, of course, in order to show us the unconscious connection that the villages draw between the lottery and their work ethic ("A Reading" 4). Tessie, after all, is a woman whose role as a housewife deprives her of freedom by forcing her to submit to a husband who gains his power over her by virtue of his place in the work place. Tessie, however, rebels against her role, and such rebellion is just what the orderly functioning of her society cannot stand ("A Reading" 4).
The elements of theme in "The Lottery" help to bring the story to life. The setting and atmosphere created a mood for the story. It helped the readers understand the characters and gave up a good understanding of how the people were raised. Theme is what a story is centered around and it allows us as readers to become a part of the story, without it you wouldn't have a story. It all started when she arrived late to the lottery. She explains to Mr. Summers that she was doing her dishes and forgot what day it was ("A Reading" 4). Jackson uses Mrs. Hutchinson to comment on the sacrificial role that women play in American society ("Conflict" 1).
Jackson places the village into the readers' time, most likely in the U.S. I found the third person narrator staying in the background a lot and he stays completely shy throughout the entire story. In spite of that and the peaceful mood created about the town everyone commits a brutal act by stoning an innocent person. They have made the bloody ritual a deception for their selfishness of wanting a scapegoat. Jackson shows that children, who do not understand the difference between right and wrong, have not yet been taught with society's values and cannot express the cruelty of human nature.

Works Cited
Bianca. "Shirley Ann Jackson." Facts and Bibliography. 4 April 2001. 28 November 2004. .
Chandler, J.D. "Conflict in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery." J.D. Chandler. (2000): .
Jackson, Shirley. "The Lottery." Literature and the Writing Process. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. 7th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002. 83-89.
Kosenko, Peter. " A Reading of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery." Peter Kosenko. 1984. November 9, 2004 .
McMahan, Elizabeth, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. Literature and the Writing Process. 7th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002. 1105.
The Brother Judd. The Lottery. 2004. 15 Nov. 2004 .
Ward, Kyla. "House and Guardians." Shirley Jackson. 2004. November 9, 2004 .
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