Irony In The Lottery

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The definition of irony is a contrast between two things. For example, verbal irony is a contrast between what someone says and what he means, while dramatic irony is a contrast between what the characters know to be true and what the readers know to be true. Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" contains many examples of irony.

Dramatic irony begins before we even begin to read, as we have come to associate a lottery with something good and pleasant. The day is beautiful and everything seems right with the world, and yet before the day is over someone will be stoned to death. The characters in the story know it, but we do not. Jackson puts this lottery in the same category as other harmless things, and we take her at her word.

The lottery was conducted--as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program--by Mr.
Summers. who had time and energy to devote to civic activities.

We expect a joyful occasion but what we get is a public stoning. When Mr. Summers wants to be certain everyone is there, it is not because he wants them all to have an opportunity to win but because everyone must be equally at risk for death. 

The narrator ironically tells us that,

[a]lthough the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to
use stones.

Though no one remembers why they must stone one of their citizens to death each year, they certainly remember how to throw stones at someone until she dies. 

At the end of the story, Tessie Hutchinson screams, "It isn't fair, it isn't right." While it is true she means these words, it is ironic in that if anyone else would have gotten the marked piece of paper Tessie would certainly have been one of those throwing stones at another.