“The Lottery” by Jackson, Shirley Essay Sample
- Word count: 3588
- Category: fiction
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“The Lottery” by Jackson, Shirley Essay Sample
Tessie Hutchinson’s scream was drowned by the villagers’ cries and the sound of stones thudding into flesh. Old Man Warner was shouting: “Be careful, folks! Look where you aim!” Like a boy delighted to see a squirming grasshopper overrun by ants, he urged on the villagers, now jostling and squealing to get their bit of fun. “One at a time! You might hurt somebody, so be very . . .Ouch!” He grabbed his foot, nearly crushed by the stone Mrs. Delacroix had lobbed carelessly.
“I’m very sorry, I couldn’t see,” said Mrs. Delacroix. Old Man Warner rubbed his leg ferociously, his face reddening. “I could sue you for that,” he told her. “You can’t imagine how much it hurts.”
Mr. Summers’ clear voice rang out: “No crowding, folks. Take your time. Why don’t you fall in line and take your turn? Funeral procession – children first.”
The crowd heeded his call instantly, and formed a queue. The children had to be led by their mothers. Mrs. Delacroix was leading little Dickie by the arm. “C’mon, sweetie, don’t be shy,” she urged. The kid threw his pebble; it fell short. “What a shame,” said Mrs. Jones, whose son Bobby was next. “Here Bobby,” she said, “ you can do better than that. C’mon darling, have a nice try.” Bobby’s pebble hit Tessie right on the eye. “That’s a good boy,” said the delighted crowd. Tessie Hutchinson was obviously not the town’s favourite, and they were enjoying themselves, to the consternation of Old Man Warner.
“This is no circus, folks,” he said sternly. “Mind your manners.”
Bill, Jr. and Nancy Hutchinson came up last. Each threw a pebble, then withdrew to give way to the adults, now getting impatient; they were thinking of noon dinner. The old women hobbled forward, each hugging a stone or a chunk of rock. Mrs. Dunbar raised hers above her head, squinting her eyes to take a better aim, then let go. It hit Mr. Dunbar’s toes, which sent him howling. “What did you do that for?” Mr. Dunbar looked like Magua about to bury his tomahawk on some paleface’s cranium. “You a sadist or something?” Mrs. Dunbar’s face flushed. “Sorry, dear” she said, “I didn’t mean to do it.”
Finally, the men took their turn. Mr. Martin played some baseball in his youth, and he loved to show off his pitching form. He grasped his stone, which was rounded and smooth like a baseball, wound up, and threw. Whoosh! “That was a rocket,” the people said. Bam! The impact was that of a cannon shell slamming into a platoon. Again, Old Man Warner groaned, a look of scorn on his face. “I said no fooling around, please. What’s wrong with you – are you all crazy?” he said. “Why don’t you act like civilized people?”
Stung by the reprimand, the men decided not to fool around any longer. Some cast their stones like zealots stoning an adulterous woman, some like part of a mob lynching a black slave, some like Roman soldiers flogging an invisible Christ. “That’s more like it,” agreed Old Man Warner, “that’s what I call civic spirit.” Then it was Mr. Graves’s turn. “I have hernia,” he said, “could you help me hoist mine up?” Mr. Hutchinson ran forward and heaved the huge slab of rock into the old man’s shoulders, and Mr. Graves struggled to lift it high, tottering dangerously, and slammed it down. “Thanks, Bill, you’re so kind,” he said, brushing dirt off his shoulders. “That rock weighed a ton, it could have killed me.”
Last was Bill Hutchinson. He glanced apologetically at the multitude, who were anxious to go home. He released the immense stone he was carrying at the body of Tessie Hutchinson, intent on making the most damage, but she no longer stirred; she was dead as a gargoyle. The noonday sun was casting eerie shadows on the ground when Mr. Summers formally declared the lottery over. There was a round of applause.
The villagers were starting on their way home when a police patrol car, very seldom seen in this region, appeared, its red lights blinking. Upon seeing it, the villagers froze. Mr. Adams turned pale as a corpse. “Be calm,” Mr. Summers said, like a hen tending to her brood, “let me do the talking.”
The state trooper who emerged from the car was tall and grey, proud as Pilate. He surveyed the nervous crowd, spat on one side and pointed with his lips at the blood-spattered body of Tessie Hutchinson. “What happened here, folks? “ he said. “Looks like a toad ran over by a corn wagon.” He inquired at the sunburned faces before him, their eyes wide with fright. “So, tell me, who’s the perp?”
Mr. Graves blurted out, “What’s a perp?”
“The perpetrator of course ,” the police officer said, impatiently. He took a closer look at the body. “Which could be a lot of John Does. Man, this guy looks whacked by a boatload of convicts newly escaped from Alcatraz, you think I’d stand by and do nothing? Hell, she’s been hanged, drowned and quartered like some heretic in the Dark Ages. And if you’d say you didn’t see who did it, then you’re all dumb, deaf and blind. So tell me – if you wouldn’t want to have a brush with the law – who am I going to arrest?”
Mr. Summers started to explain, then stopped himself. Finally, he said, “don’t you remember what date it is today, officer?”
The policeman had warmed up and was bringing up a pair of cufflinks, but stopped all of a sudden and twitched his brows. “Why, it’s the twenty-seventh of June,” he said. “Now, what of it?”
Mr. Summers raised his hand to calm down the rising angry protests behind him. “It’s the lottery, officer, the lottery! Don’t you remember? It’s the lottery, what else could it be?”
The trooper slapped his head as his eyes lighted up. He stammered: “Oh, the lottery! Yes, the lottery, of course, how stupid of me not to remember.” A scarlet flush came over him. He removed his ten-gallon hat and bowed himself like a Japanese World War II soldier before the Emperor. “I am sorry,” he said. “I know it’s unpardonable, but . . . you know, a guy sometimes knows not what he’s doing.”
Mr. Graves came forward with a stern look on his face. “God forgive you, officer,” he snarled. “but next time don’t push your luck. Treating us like we’re a bunch of criminals – that could bring you into a heap o’ trouble. Can’t you see we’re just doing our civic duty? We have a mind to cite you for human rights violation.”
“Sorry, folks,” the trooper said, meekly. “I realize you didn’t mean no harm .”
The villagers glared at the police officer. Except for Mr. Adams, who was strangely silent, they looked likeTorquemada confronting a contrite Galileo. The policeman retreated in shame to his car, started the engine and withdrew in a cloud of dust.
That evening, Mr. and Mrs. Adams were having discussion at the living room, the children having retired to bed. For a long moment, Mr. Adams was quiet, lost in thought. Then he spoke.
“Tell me what you think,” Mr. Adams said, “do we really need the lottery?”
“Huh?” Mrs. Adams said.
Mr. Adams kept his voice low, almost whispering. “I’ve been thinking, since my grandfather drew the black-dotted paper, way back in the lottery of ’69 – I was a young boy then. I joined the stoning, tho’ I was five at that time, but I had nightmares for a month. But Mom and Dad just laughed at me, calling me ‘sissy’ and ‘freak’.”
“Hush,” Mrs. Adams said, then pretended she didn’t hear. She looked around in fear, then said aloud: “Tessie sure wasn’t a good sport,” she said. “ But she’s always been like that. Didn’t know what things she ought to be thankful for. You’d think fate was being unfair or cruel to her. She should have counted her blessings more.”
Mr. Adams was a man speaking to himself: “Since then I’ve always dreaded the lottery. Every time the twenty-seventh of June comes, I drag myself from bed and try to act normal, else I’d wet my pants. I’d talked to people up north where they’d given up the lottery, and they talk sense. We should listen to them”
“You need professional help,” Mrs. Adams said, grimly. “You must be really upset, darling.”
Steve Adams’ eyes were grim, like a cornered rat’s. “Last night was the worst dream I ever had. I dreamed we were in the lottery. But instead of Mr. Summers, the little kids in our neighbourhood were presiding. They were the ones who placed the papers in the black box, including the black-dotted one. I drew for the family, and I drew the black dot – the Adams family was drawn. Then I also drew for the household, and again our household came up. Then it was our turn – you and I and the children. I already knew what was to happen. I – I drew the black dot.”
He stopped, shuddering. “What happened then?” said Mrs. Adams.
“I was to be stoned. The people, you and the children included, were coming at me, almost laughing, and I saw the stones being hurled. Then, just when I lost consciousness, I saw the child holding the black box turn into the face of Old Man Warner, and he says to me, ‘what did I always say? ‘Lottery in June, somebody dies at noon.’ Well, there’s another: ‘Lottery after school, everyone’s a fool’.”
“Well,” the wife asked, “what’s wrong with that?”
Mr. Adams exhaled, like a man about to be hanged. “Nothing,” he said. “I talked to a shrink in the city, and she told me I’m having a very rare illness, something that won’t easily go away even with hypnosis and drugs. She said it’s a case of nerves arising from a troubled mind – they called it ‘conscience’ in recent times but the word is archaic. Psychologists call it the Judas Iscariot Syndrome.”
“Why don’t you go to sleep?” said Mrs. Adams, “you really sound upset.”
“I can’t,” said Mr. Adams, “all these years I’ve been trying to tell you, but I’ve been afraid I’d be misunderstood. Today I stayed in front of the crowd, you know, I was afraid if I was to be the last man in, I won’t have the nerve to . . .” He looked at Mrs. Adams eyes, then added, “The lottery is wrong.”
Mrs. Adams did not say anything. She was afraid to look at Mr. Adams’ eyes.
Mr. Adams could not control himself: “What has lottery got to do with corn? What’s it got to do with a good harvest? What’s it got to do with our lives? You’d think we’re accursed, and we sure are, all because of the lottery. It’s nothing but superstition. We are enslaved by it. We can’t have bumper crops every year, lottery or no lottery. We have poor crops even with lotteries. Sometimes there’s no rain. Then all of a sudden there’s floods. It’s all dependent on nature, not some madman’s lottery. Think about it, why don’t you stop to think about it?”
Mrs. Adams stopped her ears with her hands to prevent herself from screaming. Mr. Adams ranted on and on, until he grew tired. Then, he fell asleep. Mrs. Adams waited for a long time, waited to see if he woke up, then tiptoed to the living room. She picked up the phone to dial a number.
Shortly after midnight, an ambulance drove up to the Adamses’ gate. Two husky men in white and a uniformed security officer emerged. They walked straight to the door, which opened immediately. A woman showed them the way to the master’s bedroom. In exactly five minutes, the men left, dragging with them a wildly protesting man, shouting at the top of his lungs.
“The lottery is evil! Can’t you see it’s the devil’s doing? Why don‘t you open your eyes? Wake up, wake up, you people!”
The people of the village listened with dread, the mothers clasping their little ones to their bosom, the men shaking their heads in disbelief. They motioned to the children to cover their ears, lest something evil befall them. The ambulance wailed into the night, straight into a mental asylum.
The villagers buried Tessie Hutchinson the next morning. The cemetery lay on a hill, about ten miles from the village. The people talked in hushed voices about the misfortune that befell the Adamses.
“Didn’t believe he could ever snap like that,” Mr. Martin was saying.” Always knew him to be a straight kind of guy. A level-headed sort. Too bad for him”
Old Man Warner was the most bitter in his condemnation. “Serves him right. Just a loony lunatic kind of fool. Speaking to us about towns losing their faith in the lottery – those crazy fools! What else did you think made him deserve that?”
Mr. Graves repressed a shudder. “To speak of the things he said, one can see he had the devil in him.” There was a general nod of agreement on this.
The villagers felt sorry for Mrs. Adams, and wanted to console her, but something kept them from it. “Who knows,” Mrs. Delacroix whispered, “if she hasn’t been contaminated by the devil’s breath?”
As the sun went up, the crowd, all dressed in black, stood before the grave dug early at dawn. They bowed their heads when Mr. Graves recited a prayer. There was a necrological service in her honor, and Mr. Summers, by virtue of his social standing, delivered the eulogy.
“We are gathered here today to pay our last respects to a woman dearly loved, who during her brief sojourn on this earthly abode, was a devoted wife, a loving mother, a faithful companion, a noble citizen. In the end she offered herself as the supreme sacrifice so that we whom she loved may live longer and happier.” His voice droned on, and many of the women and old men were seen wiping a tear or two.
“Our sister and dear friend Tessie Hutchinson has passed to the Great Beyond, but her memory will forever be enshrined in our hearts. For her passing, like those of the countless others that were chosen every twenty-seventh of June, is like pruning a tree that it may bear forth more fruits, or burning off old grass to make way for greener pastures. By her sacrifice we have shown once again our commitment to the ideals for which our forefathers fought and died for – that the welfare of an individual should always be subordinate to the collective good.”
As angry black clouds buried the smiling sun, the villagers walked to have a final glimpse at the departed. Mrs. Delacroix stifled a sob as she paused to look at what’s left of Tessie Hutchinson’s face. “Poor, poor, dear,” she said, as she lay a flower at her coffin. “Look at what they did to you.” The coffin was lowered down her grave, covered with earth, and Tessie Hutchinson passed on to the memory of the village – became a tiny black dot in the realm of things.
This narrative essay is a satire, using a lot of irony to depict the “abnormal” behaviour of the villagers. It follows the original plot, and provides sub-plots, like the scene with the police officer, the “cracking up” of Steve Adams culminating in his being forcibly taken to an asylum, and the necrological service in honour of Tessie. The “sound of stones thudding into flesh” sets a dark tone calculated to jolt the reader, which then turns humorous. Tension builds as the police officer arrives, then the mood shifts to humorous once again as he retreats in shame. The tone of humour ends when Mr. Adams’ reveals his thoughts about the lottery to his wife.
Mr. Adams’ inner turmoil provides conflict in the story – conflict against society and its perceived evils, symbolized by the lottery.
- The reader gets a hint of Mr. Adams’ troubled state of mind when he turns “pale as a corpse” when the police officer appeared.
- Adams is called “freak” when he is disturbed upon witnessing the Lottery as a child.
- The police officer’s behaviour foreshadows that of Mrs. Adams and the rest of the villagers at the supposed “insanity” of Mr. Adams.
- Old Man Warner warns the villagers they might “hurt somebody”
- He chides Mrs. Delacroix for not imagining “how much it hurts”, and advises the people to “mind [their] manners”.
- He angrily admonishes them to “act like civilized people”. He shouts: “What’s wrong with you – are you all crazy?” he said. “Why don’t you act like civilized people?”
- “I’m very sorry, I couldn’t see,” said Mrs. Delacroix, when she accidentally drops her stone on Old Man Warner’s foot.
- Summers reprimands the policeman for “violation of human rights” and for treating them “like a bunch of criminals”.
- Bill Hutchinson helps Mr. Graves hoist the stone that could kill his wife, then the latter thanks him, saying” “That rock could have killed me.”
- The villagers praise the child who hits Tessie as “a good boy”.
- Delacroix sheds a tear at Tessie Hutchinson’s grave but she had thrown at her a stone too large for her to carry, although it missed her.
- Adams is taken to a mental asylum for speaking ill of the Lottery
- Simile –
- “dead as a gargoyle”
- “pale as a corpse”
- “proud as Pilate”
- “That rock weighed a ton!”
- “cannon shell slamming into a platoon”
- Metaphor –
- Tessie compared to a “toad ran over by a corn wagon”
- The policeman compared to a “Japanese World War II soldier bowing before the Emperor”
- Dunbar pictured as “Magua (the renegade Indian scout in The Last of the Mohicans) about to bury his tomahawk on some paleface’s cranium”
- The villagers confronting the policeman compared to “Torquemada confronting a contrite Galileo”
- Death compared to the pruning of a tree, burning of old grass
- Killers of Tessie compared to “a boatload of convicts newly escaped from Alcatraz”
- Summers compared to “a hen tending to her brood”.
- Tessie compared to a “squirming grasshopper overrun by ants”.
- Tessie is compared to “a tiny black dot in the realm of things”
- “a loony lunatic kind of fool”
- “angry black clouds buried the smiling sun”
Other symbolic/figurative language/hidden meaning:
- In Mr. Adams’ dream, children preside over the Lottery, which may symbolize the childishness/absurdity of the practice.
- In describing the stoning scene, the men are alluded to as zealots stoning an adulterous woman, a mob lynching a black slave, and Roman soldiers flogging Christ(similes). It may also be interpreted as part of the greater condemnation of society or of mankind whose innate cruelty is disguised by the veneer of civilization. The allusion to Torquemada may also be interpreted as a dig on religious hypocrisy. In describing the dead body, the policeman makes an allusion to heretics tortured and killed during the Dark Ages.
- Old Man Warner praises the crowd for their “civic spirit”
- The word “conscience” is described as “archaic” or outmoded.
- The forming of a queue to give each person a chance to take a clear aim suggests the systematized, orderly manner by which people carry out acts of inhumanity.
- Summers’ advice – “ Funeral procession – children first” – is taken from the story of the sinking of the Titanic where the weakest, most vulnerable passengers were saved first, an act of gallantry and sacrifice on the part of the men. Its use in the story gives the phrase an obscene and cruel meaning.
- The necrological service in Tessie’s honor symbolizes the hypocrisy of society, which inflicts harm on the living and extols them after they die.
- While the black dot is susceptible to several interpretations, this piece interprets it to symbolize the insignificance of man “in the realm of things”. It is reminiscent of Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot which depicts the insignificance of the earth compared to the vastness of the cosmos.
- Death is depicted as taking a journey to the “Great Beyond”
This continuation of the ending of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson keeps up with the generally perceived theme of that short story, which is the inhumanity of man towards his own kind– something people do not realize or which they tend to accept as a way of life. It assumes that the purpose of the Lottery is to ensure a bountiful harvest (Old Man Warner says, “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”). As this piece is written for speech or oral presentation, which requires a more active kind of reading, it is somewhat redundant in the use of ironies, using symbols and allusions at every turn. It strives to, but can not imitate, the subdued, matter-of-fact style of the original, which draws a scenery of light and playfulness, every now and then hinting darkly of a sinister plot as it proceeds to the eerie climax.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery”. Fictions. 4th ed. Joseph F. Trimmer, C. Wade Jennings. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1985. 680-687.
“Literary Elements”. 16 November 2007. <http://www.iland.net~bshull/NBTT/literary_elements.html>