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Literature / The Lottery and Other Stories

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The Lottery and Other Stories is a 1949 short story collection written by Shirley Jackson.

The only collection of her stories to appear during the author's lifetime, this book deals with the darkness that lies under seemingly normal, ordinary life, most notably suburban neighborhoods and the big city. Themes such as racism, sexism, the societal roles of women and children, and supernatural forces are presented and critiqued.

The collection's most famous story is "The Lottery", first published in The New Yorker in 1948, which concerns a seemingly normal small-town ritual that suddenly and horrifically turns deadly. Jackson received much hate mail for it, it caused many readers to cancel their New Yorker subscriptions, and it was briefly banned in some places. Now, however, it's seen as well-written and chilling critique on the pointlessness of violence and has been heralded as one of the best American short stories ever written.

The original title for the collection was The Lottery, or, The Adventures of James Harris. And, indeed, characters named James Harris or at least similarly named ones appear or are referenced in nine of the stories.

Stories in this collection include:

  1. "The Intoxicated": A drunk man and a teenage girl have a confrontation in the kitchen during a house party.
  2. "The Daemon Lover": A woman frets over her upcoming wedding and searches for her missing fiancée.
  3. "Like Mother Used to Make": A meek man struggles to cope with his intrusive friend.
  4. "Trial by Combat": A young woman comes home every day to find her apartment broken into.
  5. "The Villager": An aging woman answers an ad selling old furniture.
  6. "My Life with R.H. Macy": A secretary grows dissatisfied with her job at Macy's.
  7. "The Witch": A family's train ride is disrupted by an old man with a gruesome tale to tell.
  8. "The Renegade": A woman hears a variety of ways to deal with her chicken-killing dog from her neighbors.
  9. "After You, My Dear Alphonse": A mother disapproves of her son's black friend.
  10. "Charles": A woman becomes concerned with the increasingly bizarre antics of a boy in her son's kindergarten class.
  11. "Afternoon in Linen": Two women argue over whose family is more well-off and sophisticated.
  12. "Flower Garden": A new resident draws the ire of an entire town when she hires a black gardener.
  13. "Dorothy and My Grandmother and the Sailors": A girl's mother and grandmother hold an irrational fear of sailors.
  14. "Colloquy": A woman goes to the doctor because she feels like she's going crazy.
  15. "Elizabeth": A woman grows dissatisfied with her life and job and desires a change.
  16. "A Fine Old Firm": Two women verbally spar to see who has a better life.
  17. "The Dummy": Two old women dislike a ventriloquist show at their favorite restaurant.
  18. "Seven Types of Ambiguity": A man's plan to buy a book at his favorite store is disrupted.
  19. "Come Dance with Me in Ireland": Two women's lunch date is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a homeless man.
  20. "Of Course": A mother is disturbed by the hold a new neighbor has over his family.
  21. "Pillar of Salt": A vacation to New York City overwhelms a tourist.
  22. "Men with Their Big Shoes": A woman tries to find a way to fire her housekeeper politely.
  23. "The Tooth": A woman begins to go insane after a dental operation.
  24. "Got a Letter from Jimmy": A husband refuses to tell his wife the contents of a letter he recently received.
  25. "The Lottery": A small town ritual quickly turns deadly.

Tropes in this collection include:

  • Big Rotten Apple: Features heavily in "Pillar of Salt" and "The Tooth".
  • Either/Or Title: The original title for the collection was The Lottery, or, The Adventures of James Harris.
  • The Ghost:
    • Both the James Harris characters in "Of Course" and "The Daemon Lover". Notably, in the first story, he is at least confirmed to exist, while in the latter, it's debatable if he ever existed at all.
    • Charles in "Charles", who is apparently the rowdiest kid in our narrator's son's kindergarten class. He doesn't exist at all.
  • Hypocrite: Our narrator's mother and grandmother in "Dorothy and My Grandmother and The Sailors" are terrified of sailors despite the fact that a member of their family, Oliver, is one and they treat him with nothing but respect and admiration.
  • Title Drop Anthology: Twenty-five stories are in this collection, the last of which is "The Lottery".