What is the story called "The Lottery" all about?

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herappleness's profile pic

M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson is a historical fiction short story with Gothic characteristics.

The story gears around a town, better yet, a village (not specified where exactly) in which "a lottery" was conducted. We do not know at first what this lottery is about, but we do know that it was a big deal, for school was out that day, the kids would gather around the village center, then the men, and slowly the place would gather up. It speaks of it being regarded and practiced with the same esteem as teen dances, and many other special and respected events.

What we know, however, is that one person is late, which is a woman whom later we realize is the main character, Mrs Tessie Hutchinson, who came to participate in a rush, leaving her dishes and all behind at home.

We know that, after each head of household draws a paper, the Old Warren asks for people to open the paper that they hold. If the person has a black dot in their paper, they are the winners of the lottery.

What we KNOW LATER is that this lottery is a sick, ancient tradition held in this village in which the person elected will die of stoning.In this case, the name called was that of Tess Hutchinson

The idea behind the story is the reality behind blind, ancient practices and how sometimes habit makes us creatures of stupidity.

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webbed | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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CORRECTION: Please note that "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is NOT historical non-fiction as described above. While the story taps into such ancient rituals as stoning and lotteries, it is in fact a fictional tale, a fable, as Ms. Jackson herself explained. You should reference the eNotes Study Guide for "The Lottery" (link below) for a thorough discussion of the story's themes. Additional resources include: Erin McCarthy's June 2014 article, "11 Facts About Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery'" (link below), and the chapter "Biography of a Story," included in the book Come along With Me: Classic Short Stories and an Unfinished Novel by Shirley Jackson (reprinted by Penguin Classics in 2013 and available through most booksellers). The chapter derives from a 1960 lecture in which Ms. Jackson recounts the events that led to her writing the story and the ensuing effects her story had on readers (including her parents). An excerpt of the chapter is available through Google Books (link below).


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