In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" In what way does the setting affect the story?
The normalcy of the town belies the sinister end of its annual lottery. On a lovely June morning, the villagers gather in the town's square, near the post office and the bank for the town's lottery to begin so that the people can go home for "noon dinner." Children scamper about, happy that school is out, talking quietly among themselves. The girls stand off to the side as the small children play in the dirt or hold the hands of elder siblings. Mr. Summers, who name befits the season, calls people together.
A small town with enough history that it has a town square certainly does not connote a location for the violence of the lottery that it holds each year. Further, the men who gather, "speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes," hardly seem the type to kill someone, nor do the women who call to their children do not seem to be sadistic in any way. Rather, they appear to be spectators of some parade or event to come. Indeed, the tranquil setting of a lovely day with serene people deceives the unsuspecting reader so that the actual intention of the town's gathering becomes all the more shocking and connotative of the underlying cruelty of human nature.
The setting is a region entirely devoted to agriculture. The main crop seems to be corn, a native American plant associated with the Indians. The lottery depicted in Jackson's story seems to be related to the ancient practice of human sacrifice based on the superstitious belief that this would please certain gods who would then provide good harvests. The superstition may have originated with the really primitive notion that planting nuts and seeds in the ground rather than eating them was a form of sacrifice which resulted in garnering more nuts and seeds as a reward for the sacrifice. This could have led to the generalization that sacrifice of valued possessions, including children, would please the invisible spirits who ruled over everything.
The wholesome setting provides a sharp contrast to the brutality inherent in "The Lottery."
In the exposition of the story, Jackson carefully selects her details to portray the charming small town feel of the village:
"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."
Moreover, the people gather in the town square, a place appropriate for carnivals and parades.
Jackson uses the pleasant details of the setting to lull the reader into a false calm, unprepared for the harsh outcome of "The Lottery."