Short-story review: The Lottery


The Lottery

A member of our book club is very fond of Shirley Jackson’s writings. I have to admit I was not at all familiar with this author, partly due to the fact that I rarely read short stories. So some months ago, when I saw The Lottery available as a graphic novel in my library, I picked it up, curious.

I decided to read the text itself recently, seeing there was a discussion organized on it by The Goodreads Group Catching Up on Classics.
I wonder how I would have reacted if I had not had the shock first through discovering the story in the graphic novel form.

I actually believe I was able to appreciate even more the writing, thanks to my first exposure to the story: as I knew what was coming, I was more attentive to the signs.

I was even more shocked to notice for instant the description of the very pleasant setting, at the opening of the story. Nature seems to be at the ready for this traditional event in the village, and isn’t it fun to have a yearly lottery? I remember ours in our small village in France, organized every summer: we would all get a free ticket while entering the grounds, and every ticket won something!
Well then, why are some villages in our story stopping following their immemorial tradition of organizing a lottery?

Even the name of the one organizing the Lottery is pleasant. Could anything bad come from someone named  Mr. Summers? Plus, he is also the one taking care of “square daces, the teen club, and the Halloween program”. The lottery seems to fit well in this list. However, Mr. Summer’s “black box” looks quite ominous, the villagers keep their distance from it, and his co-organizer is Mr. Graves

I also noticed mentions of stones: children gather them in their pockets. Then there’s a pile of them, that seems to act both as a magnet and as something repelling.

And little by little, you feel the nervousness growing among the population, until they discover who got the black spotted ticket…

I rarely read short stories because I often feel they are under developed.
Yet, I think Jackson does an amazing job in The Lottery. In so few lines, she manages to create an atmosphere that slowly develops from pleasantness to the most shocking outcome.
If you consider it was written shorty after Second World War, it is even more gruesome to juxtapose it to what humans had just done to millions of other humans…

VERDICT: Tense writing, most efficient for a totally unexpected outcome.

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Shirley Jackson
Published in 1948
Pages: 30
Short stories / Classics / Horror


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11 thoughts on “Short-story review: The Lottery

  1. I feel like this book as assigned to me in most of not all of the writing and contemporary Engish class I have taken. It took me a couple readings to get it, but The Lottery is a great piece of literature.


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  4. This could indeed be *the* short story, the one to read to represent the form. Jackson’s most famous story never fails in its power! It has replaced the warm-hearted ironies of O’Henry, which used to be required reading. Brutality and faulty morality combine to make The Lottery the disturbing parable for our time.

    I’ve never read anything else by Jackson, which is surely unfair to her, but probably typical. Here is a piece in The New Yorker looking back at the phenomenon of the story’s publication and the torrent of letters it elicited:
    Jackson herself wrote a piece called “Biography of a Story” in her book Come Along With Me. What she found most shocking, amid all the “bewildered” people who wrote to ask what the story meant, was the sizeable number of early letters from people who “wanted to know where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go and watch.” Truly as disturbing as the story.


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