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What is the tone of Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Lottery"?

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acooke174 | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 28, 2010 at 4:26 AM via web

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What is the tone of Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Lottery"?

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missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 28, 2010 at 6:36 AM (Answer #1)

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Tone, referring to the feeling that the author creates, shifts in "The Lottery" from peaceful, calm, and tranquil to cautious to horrific.

In the beginning the setting opens in an everyday American almost nostalgic town. But as the story continues beyond the first page, much of the language contributes to hints of discomfort or nervousness. Words throughout the middle like "nervously", "humorlessly",  "awkwardly", and "a sudden hush fell over the crowd" all help us feel the tension that we as readers don't really understand in the moment. In describing Mrs. Delacroix, Jackson writes:

She held her breath while her husband went forward.

This proves the characters underwent incredible stress and apprehensively anticipated something, but we do not know what until the last 30-40 words.

These last few words demonstrate the final tone of horror. To see a pleasant town use such a brutal form of fertilizing their crops through human sacrifice mortifies the audience.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 28, 2010 at 9:20 AM (Answer #2)

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I think you need to be aware that the tone of any given work does not necessarily stay the same. This is a case in point with "The Lottery", because the tone has a distinct shift from a peaceful, normal, everyday kind of tone to a grimly horrific tone that finishes the tale. Note how Jackson almost from the first sentence deliberately misleads us into thinking that this story is going to be something very different from what it actually is:

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day. the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.

This creates a happy, cheery kind of tone and as we read on and discover that the villagers are gathering together, we expect the lottery to be some form of village fete or festival. Note too how the children, men and women engage in "normal" kinds of activities - the men swap jokes, the women engage in gossip, the children play with stones. There is nothing to indicate the sudden change of tone that leads to the devastating finale.

However, it is as the villagers get whittled down to the Hutchinson family it is clear that the tone subtly changes as Mr. Summers asks Bill to show Tessie's paper in a "hushed voice." As the villagers, and even the friends of Tessie like Mrs. Delacroix rush to gather stones, the tone shifts to one of horror as we realise that the villagers are going to stone Tessie to death.

Thus in this story the tone is not constant - it shifts towards the end of the story from a normal, peaceful tone to one that is frighteningly disturbing.

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monassar19 | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted December 17, 2010 at 10:38 AM (Answer #3)

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In the beginning the setting opens in an everyday American almost nostalgic town. But as the story continues beyond the first page, much of the language contributes to hints of discomfort or nervousness. Words throughout the middle like "nervously", "humorlessly",  "awkwardly", and "a sudden hush fell over the crowd" all help us feel the tension that we as readers don't really understand in the moment. In describing Mrs. Delacroix, Jackson writes:

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