"The Lottery" is a short story written by Shirley Jackson
, first published in The New Yorker
It's June 27th. A small American village of roughly three hundred people has prepared for this day as if it were another celebration, like a square dance or a Halloween program. This event, the titular lottery, consists of selecting a family, then an individual, from the slips of paper concealed inside a splintery black box which has been used many times before. The winner (in this instance, a woman) is surprised to be selected and protests that she doesn't deserve the prize, but the whole community, impelled by the weight of tradition, insists on giving it to her. After all, a good harvest is at stake. Cue the stones.
It would be any other quaint story if it weren't for the heavy symbolism. The story is Shirley Jackson's views on the pointlessness of violence and the inhumanity in the world, in each and every person and their own neighbors. Shirley Jackson received much hate mail for it, readers unsubscribed from The New Yorker, and the story was banned
in the Union of South Africa (the precursor to modern-day South Africa).
It is probably best known today as a staple of American junior high/middle school literature classes
. It has been adapted into many kinds of media, such as radio, one-act plays, short films, a 1969 ballet, and a successful 1996 Made-for-TV Movie
. Shout Outs
in other media are not uncommon, such as The Simpsons
and South Park
as well as Squid Billies
Read it here
Not to be confused with the completely unrelated post-apocalyptic TV series The Lottery
Tropes featured in the short story:
- Asshole Victim: Tessie, who was perfectly happy with the lottery right up until it started to look like she might "win."
- Foreshadowing: The boys stacking stones in the beginning.
- More than just them. On second reading, it's remarkable how many times stones are mentioned.
- Grumpy Old Man: Old Man Warner.
- Human Sacrifice: Tessie is sacrificed to make the corn harvest plentiful.
- There is hope, though. Mention is made of towns stopping the custom (much to Old Man's Warner's disapproval).
- Infant Immortality: Subverted. In-story, it's played straight, but when someone draws the spotted paper, everyone in their family must draw again to see which one of them will die-even the toddler.
- Lottery Of Doom: Well, yeah.
- Meaningful Name: Mr. and Mrs. Delacroix, which means "Of the cross" in French.
- Moral Myopia: Tessie seems well and eager to let the lottery proceed as it always has... up until her chances to get stoned to death suddenly become very likely.
- Nobody Ever Complained Before: The lottery continues to exist because no one questioned it until now. It's implied that it was once a sort of harvest ritual from many ages ago; "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon."
- Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: Babies smiling as they pick up pebbles to throw...
- Regularly Scheduled Evil: June 27th of every year.
- Rule of Symbolism: Here's a comprehensive list of what each element means... supposedly.
- Rule of Three: The three-legged chair can be interpreted as anything. ANYTHING.
- School Study Media: Guaranteed to be the one short story in class that you actually remember reading.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: On the cynical side.
- Tomato Surprise: The nature of the lottery isn't revealed until the very end of the story.
- TV Never Lies: Many readers wrote to the author to express their disgust at the fact that this sort of thing was happening in the modern world. Yes, it's fiction, in the strongest sense of the word.
- Uncanny Village: At the beginning of the story, you'd think the town was located somewhere in Arcadia. About halfway through the story we start getting hints that the lottery may be something darker than 'just a tradition...'