Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" presents conflict on more than one level. The most important conflict in the story is between the subject matter and the way the story is told. From the beginning Jackson takes great pains to present her short story as a folksy piece of Americana. Slowly it dawns on us, the terrible outcome of what she describes.
From the first sentence of the story,
The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.
We are given the feeling of being in an idyllic, rural world. She enhances this feeling with little vignettes that are almost cliched in their banality: the little boys guarding their pile of stones in the town square; the towns-people gathering and interacting with each other as if they were at a country fair; Mrs. Hutchinson arriving late because she hadn't finished the dishes; even the good-natured complaining of Old Man Warner. All of these scenes and vignettes are used effectively to put us at our ease and to distract us from the horror that is to come.
In depicting this home-spun American scene with its horrible underlying secret Shirley Jackson is commenting on the hidden horrors of our every day life. It is no coincidence that the victim of the stoning is a woman. Jackson uses this character, Tessie Hutchinson, to comment on the sacrificial role that women play in American society.
We first meet Tessie Hutchinson when she arrives late for the lottery. It is significant that she has just come from washing her dishes. This is one of the most basic jobs of housework. Wiping her hands on her apron and apologizin...
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...iety 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.
Tessie Hutchinson screams, "It isn't fair. It isn't right," just before she is killed. This could be said, and has been said, about the lot of women in post-world war II America. In 1948, when Jackson wrote this story, Americans were listening about as much as the townspeople listened to Tessie Hutchinson before stoning her to death.
Jackson, Shirley. "The Lottery." Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense. 5th ed. Ed. Laurence Perrine. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Publishers 1998. 180-186
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