Blind Obedience in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery Essay

Blind Obedience in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery Essay

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When Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” was first published in The New Yorker in 1948, it
struck a nerve with readers. “The story was incendiary; readers acted as if a bomb had blown up
in their faces . . . Shirley struck a nerve in mid-twentieth-century America . . . She had told
people a painful truth about themselves” (Oppenheimer 129). Interestingly, the story strikes that
same nerve with readers today. When my English class recently viewed the video, those students
who had not previously read the story reacted quite strongly to the ending. I recall this same
reaction when I was in high school. Our English teacher chose to show the video before any
student had read the story. Almost every student in the class reacted with horror at the ending.
Why do people react so strongly when they read the story or see the video? What is it about “The
Lottery” that is so disturbing? To understand, one must examine the very nature of humankind.

Man’s propensity for violence has been around since Cain killed Abel. In the Old
Testament, the Bible speaks frequently of wars and killing. “And it came to pass . . . that all
Israel returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. And all that fell that day, both of
men and women, were twelve thousand” (Josh. 8.24-25). The ancient Romans were known for
their bloodlust. “The ancient Romans loved gladiators. They loved the men, the weapons, the
fighting and the bloodshed. They also loved the death” (Baker 2). While most people today
would be horrified by “what the historian Michael Grant has called ‘the nastiest blood-sport ever
invented’ [it] was much loved in ancient Rome” (Baker 3). It is also well known that over the
years, various cultures have practi...

... middle of paper ...

.... Print.

Garcia, Stephen M., et al. “Crowded Minds: The Implicit Bystander Effect.” Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology 83.4 2002: 843-53. PsycArticles EBSCO. Web. 25
Apr. 2011.

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed.

X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 10th ed. New York: Longman, 2007. 247-52. Print.
Nebeker, Helen E. “The Lottery: Symbolic Tour de Force.” American Literature 46.1 1974: 1007.
Academic Search Complete EBSCO. Web. 23 Apr. 2011.
Oppenheimer, Judy. Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1988. Print.
The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text. Jewish Publications Society of America,
1917. Print.
Yarmove, Jay A. “Jackson’s The Lottery.” Explicator 52.4 1994: 242-45. MAS Ultra -School
Edition EBSCO. Web. 26 Apr. 2011.

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