How is connotation used in "The Lottery"?

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Jackson uses words with positive connotations early in the story to help establish a setting that seems idyllic and blithe, slowly building in negatively-connoted words later on; the contrast between the beautiful and happy setting and the events that take place there create irony and interest in the story. Early on, she uses words like "sunny" and "fresh" to describe the summer day. The flowers are "blossoming profusely" and the grass is "richly green." Even the word "lottery" itself typically has a positive connotation. A lottery is something one wins, and there is an element of exclusivity and luckiness within the word's connotation as well.

The major irony of the story is that the idyllic setting hides the horrible tradition maintained by the people of the town. The connotation of the words early in the story as well as the connotation of the word "lottery" mislead the reader, leading us to expect happy summer days where someone wins something wonderful; instead, we get a bloodthirsty mob and a woman's violent death.

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Jackson primarily uses a dry, neutral, journalistic style in this short story, telling the tale matter-of-factly. Nevertheless, we get hints that the lottery makes the villagers uneasy and uncomfortable through some of the connotative, or emotionally colored, words she chooses. For example, the black box that hold the lottery tickets had spent "another year underfoot in the post office." The word "underfoot" has the negative connotation of being a bother or encumbrance, something people trip over and resent. Jackson could have used a word like "stored" or "rested," which would have had a much less negative connotation.

We learn that at one time there had been ritual words used at the lottery, which are described as "a perfunctory, tuneless chant." "Perfunctory" and "tuneless" both have negative connotations. "Perfunctory" means going through the motions without caring, and "tuneless," of course, conjures an unpleasant sound. This ritual associated with the lottery was, we can assume, unwelcome.

Mr. Summers, who runs the lottery, wears a "clean white shirt and blue jeans." A clean white shirt carries a connotation of purity, which is at odds with the ritual, while "blue jeans" are a down-to-earth, ordinary piece of clothing.

Jackson describes Mr. Summers and Mr. Adams as "grinn[ing] at one another humorlessly and nervously." Here, the word "grinned" takes on a ghoulish connotation. Normally, smiling or grinning is a pleasant facial expression, but in this context it seems more like the smile we associated with a skull.

One of the most powerful connotations come when Little Dave Hutchinson walks "willingly . . . up to the box." The word "willingly" connotes innocence: Dave comes willingly to draw a piece of paper because he is so young he has no idea it could mean he will soon be stoned.

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Connotation is the meaning associated with a word or phrase that goes beyond the literal or denotative meaning. Shirley Jackson uses connotation in several ways in her classic short story.

One of these is ironic. Technically, a lottery is just a random drawing. It could be good or bad. Most often, though, a lottery is held for some kind of prize, and so it carries a positive meaning. In this case, since the "winner" gets stoned, the meaning is very negative.

A second example of connotation is also ironic. Mr. Summers, who runs the lottery, has a name associated with warmth and pleasure. Likewise, the June setting is associated with warmth and pleasure. The lottery, of course, is neither warm or pleasant.

A major non-ironic example of connotation is the box used for the lottery. The box is black, a color associated with death and mourning. This foreshadows the deaths the lottery will bring, and is associated with the black dot on the paper Mrs. Hutchinson opens.

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