Foreshadowing In The Lottery

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

Some examples of foreshadowing that Shirley Jackson uses to allude to the evil nature of the lottery include the presence of stones, the ominous black box, and the villagers' somber, nervous behavior before the start of the ritual.

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In Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," she creates tension and builds suspense by foreshadowing the horrific nature of the annual ritual as the reader anxiously anticipates the grim outcome of the lottery.

One of the prominent examples of foreshadowing in the story is the presence of stones, which are eventually hurled at the defenseless Tessie Hutchinson. In the second paragraph of the story, the village children begin to gather stones, stuffing them into their pockets and placing them in a great pile. Stones are often symbols of violence and conflict, which foreshadow the evil outcome of the lottery.

Jackson also foreshadows the serious, dark nature of the lottery through her depiction of the villagers' behavior when they gather in the town square. Jackson writes that the men "were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed," which creates a solemn atmosphere surrounding the ritual. The villagers' serious demeanor and somber attitudes suggest that the lottery may not be a pleasant, cheerful event.

Jackson's introduction of the black box and the villagers' reaction to it are additional examples of foreshadowing. The color black is typically associated with death, and Jackson writes that the villagers "kept their distance" from the black box. When Mr. Summers asks the villagers to help him stir the papers, the men hesitate to approach and hold the box steady. The color of the black box and the villagers' reaction to being in its presence foreshadows its sinister use.

Before the lottery officially begins, Mr. Summers addresses the crowd regarding who will draw for each family and asks if the Watson boy will be drawing this year. As the boy raises his hand, he blinks "nervously" and ducks his head. The boys' response to drawing for his family suggests that he is apprehensive and fearful to participate in the ritual, which once again foreshadows the sinister nature of the lottery. The other villagers are also described as being nervous and humorless as they keep quiet, wet their lips, and refuse to look around. Overall, Jackson builds suspense and creates tension through foreshadowing, which provokes the reader's curiosity as they anticipate the outcome of the lottery.

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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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