What can we understand to be the writer's own attitude toward the lottery and the stoning in the story "The Lottery"?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having written "The Lottery" in the wake of World War II (1948), Shirley Jackson may have intended to comment on both the role of the scapegoat and that of violence in societies.

When Jackson's story was published in The New Yorker, there were many outraged responses and cancellations of subscriptions. The magazine published this response:

Miss Jackson has chosen a nameless little village to show, in microcosm, how the forces of belligerence, persecution, and vindictiveness are, in mankind, endless and traditional and that their targets are chosen without reason. 

The fact that there were those who wrote requesting the location of "the lottery" and when it was held indicates the veracity of Jackson's message that there is something inherently dark in man that delights in violence. There is also in humanity the propensity to find a scapegoat for social ills or a group of people's or a country's own shortcomings. When Hitler made the Jews scapegoats, blaming them for many of the economic problems of the nation, there were many Germans who did not participate in any persecution, but they stood by when cruelty was dealt to the Jews, and they did nothing. Jackson hints at this passivity in the face of evil as she describes the men standing together, "away from the pile of stones in the corner" who speak quietly and "smile rather than laughed."  

Also, because no one listens to the protests made by Tessie Hutchinson as she cries "It ain't fair, it isn't right," Miss Jackson may well have been commenting upon this passivity in people to ignore social wrongs out of fear for their personal well-being. Shirley Jackson wrote this in the July 22, 1948, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle:

...I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Jackson's attitude towards the stoning and lottery is meant to generate thought about what we do to other people in our daily lives.

Jackson does not speak of her judgment in a didactic manner in "The Lottery."  In fact, the entire style of the short story is one where "no judgments are made."  Jackson does not let any of her own thoughts get in the way of what is happening in the town and how it proceeds with its ritual. However, when reflecting about what she wanted to depict, Jackson wanted to focus on the role that cruelty plays in our lives:  "I hoped by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village, to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general humanity in their own lives." Jackson's own attitude towards the stoning and the lottery is to provide a view into the savagery that human beings perpetrate upon one another.

Another aspect of Jackson's attitude towards the stoning and the lottery lies in the story's historical context.  Many believe that the way Jackson depicts "fierce events"  represent " a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the bomb."  Jackson writes "The Lottery" in a world emerging from the destruction of the atomic bomb and the Holocaust.  It is a world where the fear of Communism in America gave birth to McCarthyism.  This historical context surrounds Jackson, and her attitude towards such realities are evident in her short story. 

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The Lottery

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