In the short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, what are some language techniques—especially those used to express the theme of "the danger of following blindly"—as seen in the lottery's...

In the short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, what are some language techniques—especially those used to express the theme of "the danger of following blindly"—as seen in the lottery's ritualistic nature?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In addressing the danger of following blindly in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," it should be noted that the townspeople have cut themselves off from a changing world and may eventually disband or die out. Ironically, the thing they believe keeps their town civilized is based on behavior that is anything but. Stagnation generally leads to death.

We learn from discussion among the men that other towns are thinking of doing away with the lottery or have already done so. Mr. Warner is relatively old. He seems proud of the number of lotteries he has attended (and we can infer, survived). He is harshly critical of these other towns that are moving away from the old way of doing things:

Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves...First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns.

Ironically, he considers the absence of the lottery to be uncivilized when in truth, it seems that it is based on an ages-old ritual of springtime sacrifice to pagan gods:

The idea of the lottery itself refers back to a primitive fertility custom of scapegoating; that is, choosing one member of the community to be sacrificed to appease the gods and assure a good crop.

Irony is found with Mr. Warner's misconception of antiquated thinking and behavior. There is also a danger here in that no one remembers the roots of this event. No one recalls why it started and what its original purpose was. If this had been passed along like the lottery itself, this tradition might have ended many years before. There is always a danger in allowing things that have no relevance or meaning to you to dictate your behavior. When this is done, people follow blindly, lose their free will and become nothing more than robots. Certainly it is obviously a horrific practice: even Tessie's son, Davy, is given rocks to throw at his mother. Another literary device used here is inference. We can infer that the concept of the danger of blindly following at this summertime event will continue, passed on to the next generation, in that Davy is encouraged to participate and appears to be willing.

Irony is also present in the case of Mrs. Hutchinson. She rushes from doing the dishes to get to the event on time. Her hurry (again, we can infer) is not based upon fear of getting in trouble. Everyone there is aware of what is to come. The reader gets no sense that Mrs. Hutchinson disagrees with the proceedings...until she finally selects the paper with the black spot. At this point she insists that the proceedings are unfair, though it appears that they have not changed for more years than anyone can count.

Had anyone fought against this time-honored tradition before now, we can assume (as has taken place in other areas) that the lottery might already have become a thing of the past. While Mrs. Hutchinson feels safe, she experiences no concern about the danger of following blindly, joining the rest of the townspeople through the proceedings until she becomes the victim. For her, the danger results in her death.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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"Language techniques" are also known as literary devices or literary terms. These techniques make writing come alive for the reader, using devices that convey images that are not to be taken literally, such as metaphors, similes, etc. These terms are examples of figurative language. For instance, "She's like the sun" (a simile) does not mean that getting close to her will cause sunburn (a literal perception), but that she shares characteristics of the sun: a bright disposition, making one feel warm and/or energized, like the sun.

In Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," the author uses several different techniques to engage the imagination of the reader.

Imagery, especially by using sensory details, creates a picture in the reader's mind. The boys are collecting stones at the story's beginning (an innocent practice—it seems, at the start). They were...

...selecting the smoothest and roundest stones.

Another example of imagery:

The black box grew shabbier each year; by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.

Onomatopoeia is used:

...a girl whispered...

"Whisper" sounds like the thing it describes.

Also...

...there was a general sigh through the crowd...

"Sigh" sounds like the word it represents.

Foreshadowing is also used. In the second paragraph, the narrator describes the children, so recently released from school for the summer, talking quietly and then...

...they broke into boisterous play...Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones.

Foreshadowing generally cannot be recognized until the end of the tale. What seems like harmless play is actually the assembly of weapons the townspeople later use in carrying out Mrs. Hutchinson's death sentence. The adults and children participate in the execution; even her child, Davy, is given stones to throw at his mother.

At the start, the mood in the crowd is one of anticipation. For instance, Mrs. Hutchinson was worried about being late, but a neighbor soothes her, saying that things hadn't started yet. However, as the story progresses, the author's diction becomes focused on descriptions of a suspenseful nature.

By now, all through the crowd there were men holding the small folded papers in their large hands, turning them over nervously. 

With the word "nervously," the mood of the story shifts dramatically.

Some critics believe that the names chosen in the story are symbolic. Mr. Summers' name is associated with a pleasant and enjoyable time of the year—he is described as "jovial." (It is ironic that he runs the lottery proceedings.) Mr. Graves brings to mind a grave...in this case, tragedy and death (which is also an example of foreshadowing). 

Another example of symbolism is found in that the setting of the story is summer.

...the story takes place on June 27, near the summer solstice...Many prehistoric rituals took place on the summer solstice, so by setting the lottery at this time, Jackson draws similarities to such ancient rituals...

The reader can gather that the lottery has been going on for a very long time. Mr. Warner reports that this is his seventy-seventh lottery. He also notes that there has always been a lottery.

There is irony used here as well. Mr. Warner tries to argue that towns thinking of doing away with the lottery would take them all back to the uncivilized prehistoric era:

Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves...First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns.

In truth, could anything be more barbaric or uncivilized that stoning a person to death at random, simply by pulling slips out of a box.

The entire practice is based on a very old and barbaric custom, deepening the irony of Mr. Warner's reference to returning to the time of cave dwellers as if their town is much more civilized:

The idea of the lottery itself refers back to a primitive fertility custom of scapegoating; that is, choosing one member of the community to be sacrificed to appease the gods and assure a good crop.

It is also ironic that they system of judgment is called a lottery. By definition, a "lottery" is...

...any scheme for the distribution of prizes by chance

Most of the time the reader would associate the word with a contest that provides hope of an enormous prize. In this case, it is a death sentence. 

The author uses mood in an extremely effective way. Most of the narrative is presented in a matter-of-fact fashion. Characterization is limited: we do not know the characters in depth—Mr. Summers is described as "round-faced" and "jovial." (It is ironic that his name brings to mind a beautiful and carefree season, but his job is to coordinate this deadly affair.) The story begins innocuously enough. However, through subtle hints, nervousness begins to pervade the crowd. When it is clear what the townspeople's intent is, the mood changes to one of horror—showing it to be a Gothic tale.

Mrs. Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar. "Come on," she said. "Hurry up."

Mrs. Dunbar...said, gasping for breath, "I can't run at all. You'll have to go ahead and I'll catch up with you."

Both women are making haste to join in with the others in their brutality.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Jackson's methods—her use of literary techniques—is that without having ever read or heard of the story, a reader can arrive at the last page and be completely unprepared for the story's shocking end and its macabre nature.

Additional Source:

http://www.enotes.com/topics/literary-terms/complete-index

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