How does the use of irony in "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson reflect World War II ?

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Irony is really the juxtaposition of incongruous elements.  In "The Lottery," the villagers lead apparently  sunny and "normal" lives, and the story is filled with examples of the everyday and apparently innocent quality of their existence.  The irony is that this innocent everyday existence culminates in the stoning and killing of a random person once every year, and the villagers see no contradiction in their usual daily existence and this ritual killing. They are not only impervious to this horror, but they also actively participate in it.  No one but the victim protests.

Up to and during World War II, in Europe, while Nazis rounded up people whom they sometimes killed in town squares or put in concentration camps to die later through gassing, malnutrition, exhaustion, and disease, many everyday people were fully aware of the slaughter.  Yet most of these people went about their lives, never protesting, going along with the program, claiming either innocence or an inabiltity to change  what was was going on. Had everyone done something, rather than passively or actively participate in this "ritual," many lives would have been saved. 

My father was among those who liberated concentration camps during World War II.  He told me that once a camp was secured and people were cared for, the next action American troops took was to take the locals on a "tour" of the camp, so they would be forced to confront what was going on under their noses. Most locals denied having any knowledge whatsoever of the concentration camps in their midst.  Thus, in World War II, in Europe, there was a juxtaposition of incongruous events. 

Here is a quote that sums up the situation very well:

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  - Edmund Burke


Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to the exceptional answers above, Jackson's "The Lottery" can be interpreted as a scapegoat story.  Scapegoating, of course, is at the heart of what the Nazis did, as well as Ukranians, Poles, etc.  Some 11 million Jews, gays, and Gypsies were destroyed during WWII.  These persecuted groups were, of course, scapegoats.  Hating and blaming minorities is common and far-reaching, as well as felt by otherwise "normal" individuals and groups.

Of course, the Soviet Union under Stalin treated the same groups much the same way.  Scapegoating is common and far-reaching, too.   

epollock | Student

Ironies abound in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." What is spine-chilling in Jackson’s story is the matter-of-factness with which the ritual is carried out. Each June the townspeople assemble to murder one of their neighbors. The discrepancy between ordinary, civilized, modern behavior and the calm acceptance of something as primitive as human sacrifice gives "The Lottery" a terrible power. Among the story’s many ironies, some of the most notable are:

1. The point of view. An objective narrator tells the story, remaining outside the characters’ minds, yet the narrator’s detachment contrasts with the attitude of the author, who presumably, like the reader, is horrified. That the day’s happenings can be recounted so objectively lends them both credence and force.

2. The setting. The beauty of the June day is out of keeping with the fact that what takes place on the town green is a ritual murder.

3. The misplaced chivalry. Though women can be stoned to death in these yearly proceedings, they are whenever possible protected from having to take part in the general drawing (paragraph 13).

4. The characters. The townspeople are perfectly ordinary types, "surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes" (3). Mr. Summers is in charge because he "had time and energy to devote to civic activities" (4). Old Man Warner is a stickler for tradition. Neighbors chat amiably. Children play. All are grateful that the proceedings will be over in time for them to enjoy their noon meal.

As a matter of course, even the small son of the victim is given some stones to throw at his mother. That is perhaps the most horrifying detail of all.

The ironies can translate to many differnt real settings, not any one in particular. Similar to "Animal Farm", the allegory of what happens to a revolution iws often incorrectly translated to one revolution in particular, the Russian Revolution.