In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" what language/style devices are used to develop the central idea?

1 Answer | Add Yours

clairewait's profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The central idea of Shirley Jackson's short story is one that is open to much debate.  When it first appeared in The New Yorker, it generated the most mail the magazine had seen at that time.  Letters then and critics now agree that if there is a central message to the story, it is ambiguous at best.  What is decidedly agreed upon, however, is that "The Lottery" is a story that, just like the town it represents, appears on the surface to be something innocent, old-timey, and somewhat familiar, but harbors a deep and very dark secret.

The language of the story heightens the horrifying surprise ending masked by a tone of nonchalance, duty, and general acceptance by the murderous town.  First, it is told in a third person point-of-view, which comes across as detached, objective, and matter-of-fact.  In many ways, this point of view presents the horror as if reporting it in a newspaper.  The who, what, when, where, and how is laid out in a very organized and almost systematic fashion.

In addition to the detached point-of-view, the diction itself is simplistic and straightforward, which is meant to represent the seeming simplicity of the townspeople.  Characters are often labeled by their appearance ("a tall boy") before being named.  The dialogue further reflects the simplicity of the characters as many lines are only have spoken and presented as unanswered questions ("Watson boy drawing this year?" / "Old man Warner make it?").

These language devices (among others) serve to heighten the seeming normalcy of a town that ends up being the furthest thing from normal.  The audience is sucked in to the assumption that this could be almost any small town, anywhere, which doubles the surprise and digust at such a horrific ending.

We’ve answered 318,051 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question