What are the climax, falling action, and resolution of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson?

In "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, the climax is when Tessie is declared the "winner," the falling action includes the townspeople gathering around her and stoning her, and the resolution is when the town's life returns to normal.

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Determining the climax must be considered in terms of the conflict. The conflict is brought to its highest peak at the climax, after which the conflict is resolved.

When reading this story for the first time, it is difficult to determine the conflict for much of the story as the setting is presented as falsely idyllic. However, in retrospect and in realizing that the townspeople are actually gathering to determine which member they will stone that day, the conflict becomes more clear. They complacently agree with the rules of this lottery until it becomes personal. Therefore, Tessie Hutchinson is established as the character whose conflict becomes central to the story, and the conflict becomes pretty tense once it is decided that her family has been selected as the sacrifice. The highest point of conflict is when they draw again, and Tessie herself is determined to be the character who will die, which is the climax:

"It's Tessie," Mr. Summers said, and his voice was hushed. "Show us her paper, Bill."

Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it...

Jumping forward a bit, the resolution is the point in the story at which the outcome of the conflict is finalized. Part of the resolution is implied in "The Lottery." In the last sentence, we learn that the townspeople "were upon [Tessie]," and we can assume with great certainty that Tessie dies.

The falling action, then, is the plot between the climax and the resolution. In this story, the people begin gathering stones, even handing Tessie's youngest son a few pebbles, and then they commence throwing them as Tessie protests about the unfairness of it all.

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A story's climax is often defined as the moment at which the tension or drama is the highest; it is a crisis of sorts, when things feel the most intense. It can also be a turning point in a story's plot or the point at which the audience can understand how the remainder of the story might unfold. In "The Lottery," this moment occurs when the narrator states,

Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her.

Tension was certainly building as we learned that Tessie Hutchinson drew the marked paper, as it has become apparent that this does not denote something positive, as we might have expected from something called a "lottery." Tension continues to build as we see people picking up stones and moving quickly. However, until the narrator makes it relatively clear what the people will do with the stones they have collected, we don't really have a good sense of what the marked paper means for Tessie, and so tension continues to grow. Learning that others have moved away from her and that she's holding her hands out as if to block something allows us to understand what the purpose of the rocks is. It is the climax, the crisis, or the moment of most tension.

Thus, the falling action is the remainder of that paragraph: Tessie's cries that it isn't fair, her getting hit with a stone, Old Man Warner's terrifying egging on of the community of rock-throwers, and the description of the villagers. The story resolves when we learn that "then they were upon her."

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The climax of "The Lottery" comes when the sacrifice to a worn and faded tradition is selected in the lottery; Tessie is the one selected:

"Tessie," Mr. Summers said. There was a pause, and then Mr. Summers looked at Bill Hutchinson, and Bill unfolded his paper and showed it. It was blank.

"It's Tessie," Mr. Summers said, and his voice was hushed. "Show us her paper. Bill."

Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, .... Bill Hutchinson held it up, and there was a stir in the crowd.

The falling action, which shows the consequences of the climax (and in a short story may be very brief) begins with Summer's instruction: ""All right, folks." Mr. Summers said. "Let's finish quickly."" It continues until people are all in possession of stones:

The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles.

It might be deemed that the next paragraph muddies the water, so to speak, between falling action and resolution. Jackson might have gone directly to the resolution at "Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her," but chose instead to precede this with a paragraph in which the actions of characters clarify her authorial perspective. She thus draws out the moral of the story through dramatic reactions, satirical comment, and ironic juxtaposition though the following points:

  1. Tessie calls out, "It isn't fair.'
  2. The final resolution is hinted at when a prematurely thrown stone hits her head.
  3. Old man Warner, the antagonistic voice of blind adherence to form without reason, presents what is a heinous position: "Come on, come on, everyone."
  4. Steve Adams, the earlier spokesperson for ending the lottery ("over in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery"), positioned himself in the fore-guard of the advancing villagers: "Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, ...."

After thus clarifying her authorial opinion about blind superstition and belief, Jackson comes to the resolution in which the villagers descend upon her with the stones, all following the path of the first stone in the preceding paragraph: '"It isn't fair, it isn't right," Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her."

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The climax of the story is the drawing of the slips of paper and the "winner" Tessie was discovered. The falling action occured as the town gathered around Tessie to give her her "winnings" of being stoned to death. The resolution is when we leave the town, tradition completed, life returning to normal, and Tessie dead.

 

 

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