Why do you think so many people were bitter about this story when it first appeared?
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Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is a chilling short story, to say the least. People were probably bitter when this came out because of the story's shocking ending. In the work, a town is preparing for their annual lottery. There is excitement in the air as the families prepare to go to the town square for the ceremony. The irony of the situation, however, is the "winner" of "The Lottery" does not win a prize. Instead, the winner is stoned to death by other members of the community, including young children and her own family members.
I think that there are several reasons for readers being bitter about Jackson's story. First, most American readers do not like obscure endings. "The Lottery's" ending leaves readers asking why the town kills someone each year, why Tessie Hutchinson thinks that she is different from others, etc.
Moreover, even though Jackson does not establish a place or time setting for the story, when readers from her town in Vermont read the story, they thought that Jackson was portraying them (in an unflattering manner) through some of her characterization. You can imagine that if you were one of those "characters," that you would be none too pleased at your unfavorable "appearance" in a widely popular story!
In her short story, "The Lottery" Shirley Jackson reveals the inherent and atavistic enjoyment of violence in human nature--a trait which few people would openly admit. The quick, nervous movements of some of the adults suggest that they want to continue the traditional stoning, but they do not wish to ponder on its implications:
'All right, folks,' Mr. Summers said. 'Let's finish quickly.'
Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready....The children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles.
Jackson's narration of the activity of the children in making the pile and picking up the stones clearly suggests that the pleasure in violence is innate. In addition, people may have been insulted by Jackson's implication that the majority do not think for themselves, and are led to do anything, even kill, if the "tradition" dictates,
Old Man Warner snorted. 'Pack of crazy fools,' he said.
'Some places have already quit lotteries,' Mrs. Adams said.
'Nothing but trouble in that,' Old Man Warner said stoutly. "Pack of young fools.'
I think there was a bitterness about the release of this story because it portrayed otherwise upstanding people as really nothing more than superstitious savages at the end of the story. It implied that normal people hid something darker and more primal underneath their pristine exteriors. It shows the darker side of human nature. In a civilized world such basal human nature is really thought to be uncivilized and to suggest that it does exist could definitely ruffle some more conservative feathers. This is especially true if perhaps they viewed their own values in the portrayal of the characters, prior to the ending.
One of the most disturbing element of Jackson's story is its presence of the tyranny of the majority. Certainly, this must have caused some level of controversy when it was first released. The idea of a docile and tranquil community suddenly giving way to the most savage of "traditions" is jarring to any reader. This reflects something more sinister and lurking underneath the veneer of civilized society. Another element that is quite startling is the reflection of how individuals can abandon one another in times of crisis. When the town turns on its intended victim, one truly grasps the terror and unspeakable cruelty of social orders. Within the story would help to illuminate moments in history where the worst of human nature was revealed.
Everything about this story is so normal. I mean, the kids are out of school, the guys are talking weather, the moms are scurrying to finish their dishes and tidy their houses before the big event. It's a festive atmosphere in every way. What a cruel trick to have this end how it ends. The realization dawns slowly but surely on the reader, until the horrifying reality of a "civilized" stoning is upon him--and the story abruptly ends. I think it may be as simple as the reader feeling cheated and decieved--and quite possibly dumbstruck--by Jackson's masterful use of irony.
In addition to the above responses, I think that Jackson's implicit criticism of traditional practices might also make people feel unsettled. The members of the town in "The Lottery" do not even know how the tradition of the lottery was started, yet they continue to practice it although no one obviously enjoys it. When people do bring up ending the lottery, they are criticized by more traditional elders who ironically claim that it would be "savage" to end their tradition. This blind adherence to traditional practices does not benefit anyone in the story, and this statement mirrors what people do in reality. Maybe not a good thing to hear. . .
The story attacks traditions and the seemingly mindless attitude humans have about our traditions. Of course we can see that the tradition of a stoning lottery is outrageous, but it could cause us to take an inward look at some of the other habits we have that are not healthy, but we do them just the same, in the name of tradition and the idea that "that is what we always do." There is no logical reason why we prepare and eat more food that we can even taste at Thanksgiving, but we do it every year.
I didn't see if anyone else really talked about this, but "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson did present simple country people as ignorant and mired in old, superstitions. Another chilling thing that no doubt disturbed people when the story came out is the role of the children in the story. They were actively enjoying taking part in the activity. That's scary to use the innocense of children in such a horrifying way.
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