In "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, do you find the narrator's tone strange, or even shocking? Why? What theme about cruelty or injustice does this tone help communicate?

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mdelmuro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," the narrator's tone is matter-of-fact, if not reminiscent, which is rather strange and makes the ending of the story even more shocking considering its brutality.

The narrator begins the story by waxing poetic about the beauty of the summer day:

"The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green."

There is no hint of danger in the opening lines. The discussion of the children, who recently ended school for the summer, seems reminiscent. The boys gathered rocks, like boys do, while the girls, talking among themselves, "look over their shoulders at the boys."

In fact, the narrator makes nothing seem out of the ordinary. All the town folk know one another and the day feels like a special positive social gathering, particularly as the narrator mentions events that have pleasant connotations, like "the square dances, the teen-age club, the Halloween program."

The narrator's tone does shift a bit when discussing the box that is used to conduct the lottery. The words turn antiquated and negative when speaking of the box in particular. Villagers become "upset" when discussing replacing the box. The black box is "no longer completely black but splintered badly ... and in some places faded or stained." If the narrator's reminiscent tone remained the same, the black box could be called "quaint" or "old, but important" or something of that manner.

But the shift returns immediately to the reminiscent tone in other parts of the story when speaking about the villagers. The exchange between Mrs. Hutchinson and Mrs. Delacroix is pleasant as they "both laughed softly." People let Mrs. Hutchinson through the crowd "good-humoredly" and Mr. Summers was waiting and speaking "cheerfully."

So when the people turn vicious and stone Mrs. Hutchinson to death, it's clear from the narrator's tone that this event should be a shock because how could these seemingly pleasant people who are cheerful, joking and in good humor turn suddenly on one of their own members?

This tone suggests that viciousness is inside all people regardless of how pleasant they seem. This story, written shortly after the attempted genocide of Jewish people, shows that ordinary people are capable of horrific things.