Foreshadowing In The Lottery

What examples of foreshadowing does Shirley Jackson use to suggest the possibility of evil in "The Lottery"?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The key to the success Shirley Jackson has had with readers of "The Lottery" over the years is that we do not see the evil coming until it has arrived. She does a masterful job of setting us up to believe that this mysterious lottery will be something fun and pleasant; after all, everyone in town is gathered as if for a parade or a carnival. Looking back after we have finished reading and know what happens at the end, of course, we can see some foreshadowing of the evil to come.

First, we have all the rocks. When we read the story for the first time, the gathering of rocks seems a bit odd but certainly not ominous; the rocks are a detail which gets overlooked because of all the other positive details in the story.

Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix-- the villagers pronounced this name "Dellacroy"--eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys.

The lottery is part of a list of fun, harmless events, such as Halloween parties and square dances; because of that, we overlook the fact that one of the lottery's props is a "black wooden box," which is slightly more ominous than, say, a pumpkin. The box is in bad shape: 

The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.

Again, none of this seems at all ominous at the time we read it, but clearly this is a well used and well worn box which has been used to help murder one person a year for many, many years. 

Not everything is as it seems here, as evidenced by one word in the following sentence:

Mr. Summers was very good at all this; in his clean white shirt and blue jeans. with one hand resting carelessly on the black box. he seemed very proper and important as he talked interminably.

Note the word seemed as it is used here, an indication that how he is dressed and what he is here to do are at odds somehow. 

Mr. Summer starts the proceedings, and, in hindsight, his words have an ominous ring to them.

"Well, now." Mr. Summers said soberly, "guess we better get started, get this over with, so's we can go back to work. Anybody ain't here?"

Notice that he says "get this over with," which is certainly not what one would say for something fun and special. His question is also rather unusual for a happy occasion. Normally one would ask "is everyone here?" Instead he asks the reverse: is there anyone who is not here?

Soon the number of ominous details begins to increase. The crowd is silent, the men hold their papers "nervously" in their hands, a few people talk of quitting the lottery in other towns, there are some long, breathless pauses, and then the shouting begins. That is when we know for certain that "winning the lottery" is not a good thing in this setting. 

Again, Jackson artfully disguises these small but certain indicators that something more ominous is happening in this story; it is only after the fact that we can see them as clues of impending doom. 

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The Lottery

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