In "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, describe how the people of the village act as they begin to assemble on the square before the lottery gets underway. Do you think their behavior is ordinary, or...

In "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, describe how the people of the village act as they begin to assemble on the square before the lottery gets underway. Do you think their behavior is ordinary, or do you find it unusual? Why?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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While this story begins with a charming village scene on a lovely summer day, there begin to be hints in this story that something is not quite right by the second paragraph. This is called foreshadowing, and Jackson is quite skillful at this, gradually building a picture for the reader of some serious problem in this village.

In the second paragraph, some of the boys are gathering stones.  They create a "great pile" (1) of them, and they guard the pile from other groups of boys.  These stones are a sign of something beyond a pleasant summer's day. There is no suggestion that these stones are going to be used in a good way, for example, to build a wall, and there is really no other purpose the stones could be put to that would be positive.  Stones are used to hurt people.

Also in the second paragraph, the girls are hanging on to the hands of their older siblings, something that suggests they are fearful of something. In a normal village, surely, young girls would not feel a need to cling to big brothers and sisters.

In the third paragraph, Jackson says,

They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled, rather than laughed (1).

When Bobby Martin strays to the pile of stones, his father speaks "sharply"(1) to him, and Bobby rejoins his father and brother.  All of this tells us that there is something "wrong" about this pile of stones, further foreshadowing of the importance the stones will have at the end of the story.  And this whole situation seems to be casting a shadow on the village people, causing them to not laugh and even to speak sharply to a child. 

In the next paragraph, the villagers' response to the introduction of the black box and the three-legged stool suggests even more strongly that something bad is going to happen.  The villagers keep a distance between themselves and the stool. They are also reluctant to help Mr. Summers with whatever he is about to do. We are told of "a hesitation" (1) before two men come forward to help. The villagers are clearly reluctant to be near the box and stool and reluctant to take any part of this process. 

All of this foreshadowing takes place in the first page of the story, and it is so subtle and gradual that most readers do not notice it at first reading and must go back to find it. We are only gradually allowed to see the horror that awaits these villagers. 

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