How are women portrayed in Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery"?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Apropos, perhaps, of the era in which Shirley Jackson wrote her short story “The Lottery,” women in this macabre tale are treated as decidedly inferior to men. Published in 1948, social customs of the time—and of the preceding two thousand years, give or take—were highly prejudicial towards the role of women in society. After all, it had been fewer than 30 years since passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guaranteed women the right to vote in elections. Equality of opportunity remained a goal that would not be neared for many more decades and that in many ways has yet to be achieved. The role of the average woman in the United States during the late 1940s was defined as housekeeper. The man went off to work in the morning; the wife took care of the children, cleaned the house, prepared meals, and went shopping.

In the tiny provincial town in which “The Lottery” takes place—a population of “more than 300 and likely to keep growing”—it would have been surprising if women had been portrayed as more dominant or assertive. Instead, the only hint of such fortitude occurs in a derogatory reference to the wife of Mr. Summers, the kindly gentleman who was pitied by some of the townsfolks because “he had no children and his wife was a scold.”

Examples of the subordinate role of women in Jackson’s story abound. Women are described as “wearing faded house dresses and sweaters” while arriving at the town center “shortly after their menfolk.” As the town’s population assembles for the lottery, the women dutifully stand by their husbands while tending to the children. As the story progresses, that subordinate role is increasingly apparent. Repeated references to “heads of families” or to “heads of households in each family” unmistakably means the husbands/fathers.

Perhaps nowhere is the subordinate role of women in “The Lottery” more evident than when Mr. Summers begins the proceedings by ensuring that the entirety of the town’s citizenry is present and that each family is represented by the husband. Note in the following passages the clear hierarchy between male and female:

"Well, now," Mr. Summers said soberly, "guess we better get started, get this over with, so's we can go back to work. Anybody ain't here?"

"Dunbar," several people said.

"Dunbar. Dunbar." Mr. Summers consulted his list. "Clyde Dunbar," he said. "That's right. He's broke his leg, hasn't he? Who's drawing for him?"

"Me, I guess," a woman said, and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. "Wife draws for her husband," Mr. Summers said. "Don't you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?" Although Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village knew the answer perfectly well, it was the business of the official of the lottery to ask such questions formally. Mr. Summers waited with an expression of polite interest while Mrs. Dunbar answered. "Horace's not but sixteen yet," Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. "Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year."

. . . .

A tall boy in the crowd raised his hand. "Here," he said. "I'm drawing for my mother and me." He blinked his eyes nervously and ducked his head as several voices in the crowd said things like "Good fellow, lack," and "Glad to see your mother's got a man to do it."

The portrayal of women in “The Lottery,” as noted above, is both condescending and consistent with the era in which the story was written. That it is a woman, Tessie Hutchinson, who draws the slip of paper with the black spot indicating that it is she who will be stoned to death is strangely appropriate given the role women play in this fictional town.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The women in Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Lottery," are portrayed as simple, second-class citizens, subservient to their husbands and even their sons. The men run the show: All of the lottery officials are men, and they gather first, then the women. The men speak of important things, "planting and rain, tractors and taxes." The women merely gossip. The women are not authoritative, for they have to call their children "four or five times" before they obey. Everyone condescends toward Tessie Hutchinson because she is late--late because her husband rounded up the kids and brought them to the important annual event without bothering to even fetch his wife.

Tessie is presented as a congenial wife but ultimately weak and disloyal mother. When she finds that her family is the chosen one, she attempts to better her own odds by asking that her older daughter be included:

   "There's Don and Eva," Mrs. Hutchinson yelled. "Make them take their chances."
   "Daughters draw with their husbands' families, Tessie," Mr. Summers said gently. "You know that as well as anyone else."
   "It wasn't fair," Tessie said.

Tessie repeats her childlike "it isn't fair" excuse several times before her end. In a final bit of irony, even Tessie's own son, Davy, moves in with his own pebbles to participate in his mother's sacrifice.

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is perfectly appropriate that the women are portrayed as they are in Shirley Jackson's story. The purpose of the story is to depict these people as backward. The women behave the way women did a century before them. No change is taking place in this society, and nobody seems to want any change. It would be inappropriate for the women to seem better educated, less subservient, less domestic, or different in any respect from their female ancestors. We visualize the women in Jackson's story wearing sunbonnets and homemade dresses with no makeup or jewelry.

obwhite | Student

this the short story of Shirley Jackson "The Lotttery" the womens are portrayed as lower than the males. we see that the womens arent really treated good or with respect because they have to power to vote. Most of the things in the town was run by men or by boys that were olded enough. here we see that back then that is how the women were treated with no respect and just for cleaning and cooking, they were more for being a tool than anything else.