A Summary of The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson

A Summary of The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson

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The orderly plot structure allows readers to experience the story as if they were witnessing actual events. The unsettling familiarity of these events suggests to readers that their community, too, may be clinging thoughtlessly to outdated traditions in spite of negative consequences. Because it does not evaluate or explain the savage events of the story, the objective, detached point of view used in "The Lottery" forces readers to ask the question, "why do people often get stuck on outdated traditions in spite of not only negative, but tragic consequences?" Shirley Jackson sets the savage ritual events of her story in a bland, unremarkable setting, suggesting that this disturbing scenario can occur anywhere, and no one in society is excluded.

The 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 goes to great lengths to present the reader with the picture of an average American town which fills all societal roles. Slowly the horrific outcome of the story begins to unfold.

The very first sentence of the story states, "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." This paints the picture of the ideal rural community. Jackson even throws in many gender roles. Mrs. Hutchinson arrives late and jokingly says, "Wouldn't have me leave m'dishes in the sink, now, would you. Joe?" This conveys to the reader that Mrs. Hutchinson is a housewife who takes care of her family. The narrator also speaks of the little boys guarding the pile of stones in the town square, and describes the towns-people interacting with each other as if they are at a county fair. There seems to be a strong sense of community in this seemingly perfect town. By setting the mood with this All-American town, Jackson is commenting on the hidden horrors of our every day life.

It is also apparent that Jackson chooses a female character to signify the sacrificial role that is inherent to women in American society. Tessie arrives late after doing the dishes. It seems she has accepted her role in society and until this day had not questioned or resented this role.

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The irony of Tessie accusing Mr. Summers of not giving Mr. Hutchinson sufficient time is she had urged her husband to hurry up when their name was called. Reality set in when she realized that her husband had pulled the piece of paper with the black dot.

She suddenly sees the immediate danger that now awaits her. Everything she has worked for, no longer matters. She has filled her societal role and now it means nothing. The inherent unfairness of the position she is now in hits her like a slap in the face. She protests, but she has spoken up too late of the injustice the town is committing. At this point everybody else is content that they were not the innocent victim. They are more then happy to go on with their ritual as they do every year. After all it is a tradition and traditions can not be broken.

Tessie is now no longer considered an asset to the community. The towns-people's only need for her now lies in sacrificing her to ensure a good harvest. The human sacrifice is something the towns-people have always done and Old Man Warner responds to Tessie's pleas by saying, "People ain't the way they used to be." He presumably is commenting on how people use to complain about their fate of dying, not about the unfairness of the lottery.

Tessie's death and repeated accusations of unfairness mirror the sacrifice women have been making in society and the unfair nature of their sacrifice. Tessie is speaking of the unfairness of the entire ritual until her last breath, yet if given the choice she would return back to her life as before and never again question her role in society. Many horrors and secrets are suppressed and hidden cleverly beneath the mask an ideal American society. Traditions, ceremonies and other practices done out of mere habit can be detrimental to the improvement of society and road blocks preventing our society to move ahead.

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