Can anyone please tell me what they think is the structure and the overall message of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson?Structure: How the story is told by the author, why she only tells certain...

Can anyone please tell me what they think is the structure and the overall message of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson?

Structure: How the story is told by the author, why she only tells certain things at certain stages. Anything that you think is right.

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The term structure with regard to a short story includes all the elements in that story.  The final objective is to see the story as a whole and to become aware of how the parts are put together to produce a unified effect.  Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" has a carefully composed structure that produces a stunningly unexpected ending. 


  • Setting - One way in which Jackson effects her unexpected and alarming ending is in her use of setting. The story takes place on a June morning in the town square of a small village. The description in the opening lines is of natural beauty:

...the fresh warmth of a full summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green....the children tended to gather together quietly ...before they broke into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teachers....

Amid all this charmingly deceptive setting, Jackson then puts a disarming detail which acts as foreshadowing, but it is so subtle that the reader hardly notices it. 

  • Foreshadowing - "Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example..."

Then, Jackson tucks the mention of the "black box," an ominous foreshadowing of coffins and death among the details about Mr. Summers--a deceptive name--who is "a round-faced, jovial man" who does his civic duty, and for whom people feel sorry as his wife is known as "a scold."

  • Conflict - Another way in which Jackson disarms her readers is by not presenting the conflict of the story until later in the narrative as there is "a breathless pause," before the women ask who has the slip and Tessie Hutchinson shouts "It wasn't fair."
  • Character - Jackson's characterization of the complacency of the residents of the village is also another factor that deludes the reader. 

At the same time that characterization deceives the reader regarding the import of Shirley Jackson's story, it also contributes to the impact of the narrative.  For, the unthinking acceptance of the violence of the lottery bespeaks of humans' innate desire and perverse enjoyment of violence as well as their penchant for making someone a scapegoat for their evil.  This is Jackson's message, one that disturbs the keen reader because of Jackson's masterful story structure.




Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Jackson's overall structure is to really do a number on the reader.  Her descriptions of the village "ritual" are done in such a manner that there is an almost horrific beauty present.  Her descriptions of daily life are compelling enough so that one can almost be lulled into a sense of complacency about what life is featured and how things progress.  Yet, there is an undercurrent of anxiety that is present.  For example, the setting of a beautiful day and the summer weather belies the fact that all of the villagers have assembled for something that, in its own right, is not necessarily good.  The reader feels it and the characters in the story experience it.  It is this tension that provides most of the structure for the story and its development.  The message that is given has to mostly do with what Mill would call the "tyranny of the majority."  Tessie's victimization at the hands of the community that stones her to death represents what happens when there is no institutional check on the encroachment of the majority.  The fact that this practice is seen as tradition only highlights the fact that the rights of the individual have often been sacrificed at the hands of the ruling majority.  The overall message of the story might be more of a cautionary tale.  Readers observe with horror at what happens to Tessie.  No doubt reasonable readers conclude that this is something that should not nor could not happen in our society.  Yet, when we extrapolate the message about the silencing of voice and the negation of one's experience, the message from the story is whether or not we, in the modern setting, do the same thing in alternative ways to voices of dissent or to voices that lack the political or social capital to be considered having power.  In this light, Jackson's message might be to pay attention and be vigilant to those individuals who lack decision making power and be attune to their experiences and validate their voices.

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The Lottery

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