Describe the point of view of "The Lottery."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In their excellent book, Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories (Rev. ed. 1995), editors James Moffett and Kenneth R. McElheny have arranged forty-four short stories according to points of view, proceeding from the most subjective up to the most objective. They classify Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" as ANONYMOUS NARRATION--NO CHARACTER POINT OF VIEW, which is the editors' most objective category. In their introduction to this class of stories they write:

By staying outside the minds of all the characters, a narrator drops the role of confidant and relies entirely on eyewitness and chorus knowledge alone. Stories of this sort that emphasize the eyewitness role tend toward scripts that include virtually nothing a bystander would not see and hear...

The narrator of Jackson's "The Lottery" is anonymous, but not omniscient like many of the anonymous narrators of short stories, such as Jack London's "To Build a Fire," to take only one example, or Anton Chekhov's story "The Bet," both of which, incidentally, would fit into Moffett's and McElheny's category of ANONYMOUS NARRATION--SINGLE CHARACTER POINT OF VIEW. The reader of "The Lottery" is placed in the position of an observer, or "eyewitness," and only knows what he sees and hears. This is an effective way for Jackson to present this particular story because it enables her to keep the reader in the dark and in growing suspense. The reader has a sense that something pretty awful is going to happen, but doesn't find out until close to the end what it is. The effect of the story would be ruined if the reader could see into some of the characters' minds and learn what this annual ritual was supposedly all about. We only get hints from some of the characters, such as Old Man Warner. When Mr. Adams tells him that they are thinking of giving up their lottery in a nearby village, 

Old Man Warner snorted. "Pack of crazy fools," he said. "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.'"

We get the impression that this lottery must have started out a long time ago as a human sacrifice to some god or goddess of agriculture. Any knowledge we pick up has to be with our own eyes and ears. We never really do understand why these seemingly ordinary, kindly, neighborly people continue to participate in this hideous, superstitious ritual year after year--but that is precisely the author's intention. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team