Exactly what is the point of view in "The Lottery"? Given the specific emotional effect the author wants to achieve in the story (shock), why is this the only logical point of view for this story?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story of "The Lottery" describes the annual ritual in this unnamed town, where the townspeople gather to select a name from the box offered up by Mr. Summers.  It appears that this exercise has been occurring for a long time.  Everyone is included, even the children: no one is exempt.

As with Shirley Jackson's "The Possibility of Evil," the evil prevalent in the story is not obvious at first.

The story is told in third person omniscient.  The author describes the situation not as if he/she were a part of the business, but a casual observer on the outside, looking in.  The mood of the author's writing does not convey what is about to take place, another hallmark of Jackson's writing.  It simply describes what is taking place, and it is not until Tessie Hutchinson realizes her family has been chosen that the anxiety in her demeanor convey a sense of suspense and dread.

What is even more disturbing (in retrospect) is that when their family's name is called, she suggests that other members of her family not living in their house also be included in the final drawing.  Equally disturbing is the rejoicing of her children when they don't pick the paper with the black mark, her husband's stoicism when he realizes that he has not been chosen, and finally, the town's calm acceptance of what is to come as they pick up the stones with which they will kill Tessie by stoning her to death.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The key element of narration in Jackson's "The Lottery" is that it does not give character thoughts.  This is the essential element of Jackson's narrator.

The narrator is detached and uninvolved, objective.  The narration is limited to history, description, dialogue, and action.  What the narration does not include is the omniscient ability to read characters' minds.  No thoughts are revealed.  This is the key to the surprise ending.  The objective narration does not give away what the lottery is really about.  The surprise ending would be impossible if the narrator were omniscient.  Reading character thoughts would give away what they are really doing there, and what the lottery is really about.

As the enotes Study Guide to the short story reads:

Jackson's narrative technique, the way she recounts the events in the story, is often described as detached and objective. Told from a third-person point of view, the narrator is not a participant in the story. The objective tone of the narrative, meaning the story is told without excessive emotionalism or description, helps to impart the ordinariness of the barbaric act.

The narrator can't be a part of the story, and can't reveal character thoughts.  To do either would destroy the surprise ending.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The point of view is third person objective, omniscient, and detached. It is the only logical point of view for this story because the character is present, knows everything, but emits no opinion, emotion, nor personal dislike or like towards the situation.

It is also the only logical point of view for the story because the narrator is meant to be a part of the story as a witness, and so shares the pathos of the community: That it is numbed to death, and to the atrocious practice of the lottery.

Finally, the shock does not come from the narrator but from the reader, precisely because of how detached the narrator is, and how openly bluntly the end is presented. That is the purpose of the point of view in its entirety.