Irony In The Lottery

 Please explain the irony in "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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. 

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson has been developed around situational irony, a literary device in which the audience is led to expect an event that is completely different from what actually happens. The title, "The Lottery," implies a positive event because lotteries are traditionally carried out to award money or prizes to the winner. Participation is usually voluntary, and the winner receives a prize after being selected randomly—that is, based on luck. However, the outcome of the story is completely different from what the title implies. A lottery is carried out with the aim of selecting an individual to stone to death. The audience expects the winner to receive a grand prize, but instead a painful and tragic death is what they get.

In addition, the setting is made to hide the fact that something abnormal and dreadful is about to happen. Each member of the community is seen to be going through their normal daily routine. When they meet at the square, the children are playful, the men have conversations around their work, and the women are also engaged in conversations. The setting reinforces the audience’s expectations of a happy ending until the tragic stoning occurs and the truth of the event is revealed.