In "The Lottery," why was Mrs. Hutchinson late to the lottery drawings?
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In plotting her story, Shirley Jackson was obliged to introduce a fairly large number of characters. This would have been natural in any case, since it is about all the people in a town with a population of about three hundred. But one of the main features intended to engage the reader is the question of which of these three hundred people is going to be the "winner" in the lottery. The reader will not understand the nature of the lottery until one of the townsfolk is chosen. If Jackson confined her cast to only three or four characters, the reader would naturally guess that one of them was going to win the "prize"--whatever it might be.
Jackson skillfully introduces Tessie Hutchinson nearly last of all, but not in such a way that the reader would take special notice of her and possibly expect her to be the "winner." She arrives late.
"Clean forgot what day it was," she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly. "Thought my old man was out back stacking wood," Mrs. Hutchinson went on, "and then I looked out the window and the kids were gone, and then I remembered it was the twenty-seventh and came a-running."
The author has to provide some description of Tessie Hutchinson so that the reader will be able to visualize her and feel some sympathy for her at the end. At the same time, Tessie mustn't stand out in this crowd lest the reader take too much interest in her and begin to suspect that she is going to have a very bad day. Jackson includes several other characters in the same paragraph in which Tessie is explaining why she was late, making her just one of the crowd while at the same time making her one of the more visible characters. In the next paragraph there is more camouflage:
...two or three people said, in voices just loud enough to be heard across the crowd, "Here comes your Missus, Hutchinson," and "Bill, she made it after all."
...and Mr. Summers, who had been waiting, said cheerfully, "Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie."
So Jackson makes Tessie Hutchinson an identifiable character and then submerges her into the crowd to keep her from being too conspicuous. Later the reader will remember who this homespun, talkative woman is.
Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. "It isn't fair," she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head.
Shirley Jackson does a suprerb job of writing with every aspect of her story. She creates an illusion of a crowd of three hundred countrified people in a town square. She characterizes the woman who will eventually become the scapegoat in this ancient ritual without allowing the reader to suspect that Tessie will be chosen. Jackson introduces a number of other characters who could draw the fatal slip, including the vociferous and opinionated Old Man Warner, whom the reader might expect to get chosen--once it becomes obvious that nobody wants to be the "winner"--just because Warner has been bragging about being in the lottery for seventy-seven years.
Tessie Hutchinson was surrounded by people, submerged in the crowd, right up until the end. Then Jackson paints a vivid picture of her all alone in the center of a cleared space and holding out her hands desperately to all her friends and neighbors as they close in on her.
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