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Since the final effectiveness of Shirley Jackson’s story titled “The Lottery” depends strongly on a sense of surprise, Jackson constructs the story in various ways so that readers will not expect it to end with a sacrificial killing. Among the aspects of that structure are the following:
- She opens by describing a beautiful summer day, with no obvious hints of darkness or death.
- She makes “the lottery,” which is mentioned in the opening paragraph, sound perfectly routine.
- She mentions that children are involved – a fact that later seems quite shocking but which at first seems to imply that nothing dangerous or violent will be taking place.
- She mentions that the children have stones, but she is careful to mention that the children with stones are little boys – the kinds of children most likely to be interested in stones for perfectly innocuous reasons.
- She describes people engaging in friendly, relaxed, even humorous conversation, as if nothing untoward is expected to happen.
- She associates the lottery with perfectly pleasant social events:
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.
- She implies that the lottery is an old tradition in the village, so that we are surprised when we later discover that this old tradition is horribly violent.
- She indicates that the box associated with the lottery is kept openly in many places around the village, suggesting that there is no special stigma attached to it.
- In describing Mrs. Hutchinson’s arrival at the lottery, she implies that the lottery is something people look forward to attending.
- She notes that the gathered people are in a good humor when they let Mrs. Hutchinson move forward through the crowd. She even notes that
soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson's arrival.
- She indicates that no one objects either to the lottery itself or to the preparations for the drawings.
- She indicates that the people superstitiously associate the lottery with good luck for the community as a whole, as is implied in the old saying, “‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’”
- Even as the members of the Hutchinson family open their slips of paper, they seem happier that their individual slips are not marked than distressed that the slip belonging to some member of the family will be marked.
In short, not until Tessie Hutchinson begins protesting that some member of her family seems to have “won” the lottery do we have any definite reasons to suspect that the winner of this lottery is actually loses everything.
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