What is the difference between the mood of the story when it started and the mood when it ended?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The ending of "The Lottery" is shocking and horrific just because the author, Shirley Jackson, deliberately made the beginning so homey and unimportant. It looks like it is going to be a story about some very simple occurrence in a totally ordinary small town. The opening sentence of the story shows the kind of mood the author intends to establish.

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.

How could anything bad happen in a peaceful little American town on a day like this? Gradually the author makes the simple small-town event, whatever it is, seem more sinister. The people are all a little agitated. The small boys are gathering piles of rocks. What in the world could they be planning to use them for?

The mood changes entirely when Bill Hutchinson draws the black spot for his family. His wife Tessie sounds panicked.

Tessie Hutchinson shouted to Mr. Summers. "You didn't give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn't fair!"

"Be a good sport, Tessie." Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, "All of us took the same chance."

"Shut up, Tessie," Bill Hutchinson said.

It is ominous to hear Bill tell his wife to shut up. He is concerned about maintaining family dignity here among all their friends and neighbors. Something very bad is going to happen, but the reader still doesn't know what it is.

Then the members of the Hutchinson family all have to draw for themselves. The crowd is really tense now. This is getting down to the moment of truth. When Tessie draws the black spot it seems as if she had a premonition that it would be her. She begins to protest even more strenuously.

Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box. 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."

At this point the reader realizes the truth. Tessie, for some unknown reason, is going to get stoned to death by all her friends and neighbors. Her own husband Bill will participate in the stoning, as will their three children, although the youngest, little Davy, can only toss a few pebbles. This annual small-town event has grown more and more sinister from the opening. The mood might be described as uncanny. Can this really be happening in America? Can simple, ordinary Americans really act like this? Can they be doing the same thing year after year? How many people have already died?

"It isn't fair, it isn't right," Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.

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