“So, I wrote [to Shirley]: ‘I read ‘The Lottery.’ What does it mean?” [Shirley’s] answer: ”I wish I knew” (O’Shaughnessy qtd. in New York Times).
Perhaps, Mrs. Jackson didn’t know, was being coy, or a combination of both. A plain-spoken narrative of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is an annual coming together of a village “in the square…at ten o’clock [to kill someone and still able to] get home for noon dinner” (Jackson 1). Nothing wrong with a straight-ahead approach, right? After all, who doesn’t love the suspense of a lottery to determine a “random” winner of mob brutality?
However, individual sacrifice is only a part of the man faces adversity plot line. Just kidding, there is little to no way a man is going to be “randomly” chosen. Thankfully, Jackson’s words remain allowing for anyone (that can read and utilize their imagination) to take a journey into the village of “The Lottery.” What follows is one such trip of discovery to the village. At times, this journey may refer to the village as “Jackson-village” to accommodate those that may not enjoy reading, “the village this, village that, village, village, village [sic].” Jackson-village is a small but growing, community that faces several conflicts of a changing world.
In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” three themes of this struggle center around societal stratification, arbitrary customs, and corrupt authority. As you learn about the “growing pains” of Jackson-village, please keep in mind, perhaps not all towns may hold an annual “rock” show, but they too have their unique quirks.
The first theme of struggle within “The Lottery” will focus on social stratification. This stratification is evident not only among the adults but also includes the children. The boys are prone to being rowdy! They also enjoy their rocks! They even make sure the pile is “guarded [from the] other boys [as the girls stand by]” (Jackson 1). The men converge as their women quickly follow to join their husbands. Then, the women may try to round up their rowdy boys, but their calls are often ignored. One such time, Bobby Martin even “ducked under his mother’s grasping hand and ran, laughing… [when his father called] Bobby came quickly” (Jackson 1). After all, Jackson-village is a male-dominant society—men make the rules!
One example of such rules is the annual lottery that may result in women being “more prone than men to be the victims of the stoning” (Hattenhauer 297). The lottery does “[inspire] maximum childbearing…[as] a married woman minimizes her chances of being selected by delivering babies.” (Hattenhauer 302). Make no mistake, men do run the village, but even they are subject to a stratification within such a heavy-handed culture.
The king of this jungle village is Mr. Summers, a man of prestige, as he runs the coal company and has “time and energy to devote to civic activities” (Jackson 1). Therefore, he conducts the lottery with the assistance of Mr. Graves. Mr. Graves, a government representative, is the village postmaster. What is the greatest symbol of their power? Control!
Specifically, control of the black box and stool. Most folks keep far away from the black box, even when Mr. Summers asks for a hand.
Only Mr. Martin, the grocery store owner, and his kin come to assist. For such acts, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves are kind enough to share some authority with Mr. Martin. Only prestigious and trustworthy men can ensure the safekeeping of the sacred box. So, the responsibility to secure the black box is shared, and occasionally it is stored in “Mr. Grave’s barn…[or] in the post office…and sometimes in the Martin grocery” (Jackson 2). Mr. Martin is a prestigious and trustworthy man. Nonetheless, Mr. Martin can’t run the lottery or directly assist—there’s a pecking order, you know?
These three men share the highest authority—the black box. However, only Mr. Summers carries the remarkable burden of managing the long-held traditional lottery.
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Hattenhauer, Darryl. Shirley Jackson’s American Gothic. Albany, US: SUNY Press,
2003, pp. 297-302.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery.
“‘The Lottery’ ‘The Lottery’.” The New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed. 27
Aug. 1988. http://www.nytimes.com.