Can Postmodernism theory be used to analyze Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"?

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Jackson's story is a prime example of the postmodernist themes of the ineffable and the uncontrollable.

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According to the eNotes page on postmodernist themes, "One of the main outgrowths of Postmodernism is the disintegration of concepts that used to be taken for granted and assumed to be stable" (eNotes). For example, the title of the story "The Lottery " would generally make us think of...

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something positive—of winning something desirable. It calls to mind the notion of being presented with the opportunity to acquire something that one really wants or something that might otherwise be out of reach. However, Jackson disrupts and disintegrates our prior understanding of what a lottery is—first, by delaying our comprehension of what, exactly, the "winner" gets and, then, by making it so incredibly undesirable to "win." We always think of "winning the lottery," but it is clear that the person chosen in this particular lottery loses big time.

Further, "there can be no final meaning for any text, for [...] 'texts are not to be read according to [any method] which would seek out a finished signified beneath a textual surface. Reading is transformational'" (eNotes). In other words, then, the text cannot produce some objective and universal meaning that we simply peel back the layers to understand. If the meanings of the very words are shifting, then that makes it impossible to pin down one message in the story. One person might read this story and believe that it shows us that blindly following tradition is unwise; another person might interpret it to mean that human beings are ritualistic in nature; yet another person might think that the story shows the powerlessness of women in a community run by men. There is no one "right" meaning or message.

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"The Lottery" can certainly be seen as a postmodern story because some of its features closely align with the elements of postmodern literature.

While Postmodern literature is characterized by many things, the following are seen specifically in "The Lottery."

  • Jaques Derrida created the term "postmodernism" and one of his beliefs was that words cannot, 

"convey any absolute meaning, there results an impossibility of language to establish a “transcendental universal” or a universal truth" (eNotes) 

The word "lottery" typically does have a positive connotation. This is an almost universal meaning for "lottery," yet Jackson uses the word to mean the complete opposite. Many of the words and images that Jackson uses go against the universal meanings of the word and cause us to think about them differently.

  • Many have argued that one of the messages of "The Lottery" is that men have power over women, and they cite the example of Tessie Hutchinson being the one chosen (a woman) and the first one to actually rebel against the ritual, but no one cares and they kill her anyway, thus she is powerless as a result of a male-driven community. This example could also be seen as a binary relationship that sets up a "violent hierarchy ," in which Derrida would say one individual/group/word/concept has power over another.
  • Derrida also believed in the idea that there is nothing other than the text. In other words, the text is all you need to determine meaning. You do not need to look outside of the text in order to make it meaningful, and one could easily argue that this story is timeless because it is full of meaning regardless of when or why it was written. The plot and characters craft a warning about blindly following any individual, group, or ideology and understanding that message is not reliant on knowing anything about the timeframe in which it was written.
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