To what extent does Shirley Jackson use Gothic convention in "The Lottery"?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The evidence of Jackson's use of Gothic conventions in "The Lottery" is seen in the following genre-specific traits:

Duality - The villagers' "do or die" attitudes regarding the ancient stoning practice of the lottery makes them barbarians. However, the way in which they lead their daily lives attending church, being communicable neighbors, and abiding by typical community rules makes them also civil. 

Antithesis- While the lottery is a commonplace game of chance often connected to earning something, in this story the meaning of the game also has the same connotation...except that what you win is basically your death. Nevertheless, the villagers await this moment with a morbid desire for it to be properly carried through.

Ambivalence- Although the villagers have a vague notion of the origins of the lottery, nobody can give a 100% certain answer as to why it was established and why was the required outcome that someone is killed. Ambivalent or not, they are still going with it.

Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery"

Dark aspect of humanity- The fact that these otherwise gentle villagers have the capacity to stone a fellow human, and even a family member, to death just for the sake of the lottery unveils the "basic Id", or the inner animal within us all, that needs to be tamed. 

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 Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands...

A touch on moral codes- In this village, killing was included in their overall code. The irony of this fact is what makes the story all the more tragic. Tragedy is essential to Gothic lit. 

The use of the "sublime" - The gorgeous weather of that day in June almost makes up for the horrors that are happening in the village. The children play, the air is fresh, and there is even an unshakable sense of community among the villagers. 

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...

Weather- In the Gothic genre the weather is used for atmosphere. In most Gothic works, the weather is cold and dark. However, Jackson used the bright, fresh and sunny weather contrast dramatically with the tragic nature of what will happen.

A tormented character, damsel in distress, or persecuted character (doomed, cursed)- Although Tess is picked by chance at the draw of the lottery of names, she already has shown signs of feeling of a perchance that she may get picked. That is why she, consciously, unconsciously, or psychically maybe, got there late, and was nervous throughout. 

Isolation- All we  know about this village is that it was on its own, following its own system and its own traditions. There is a village nearby, from what the text says, but only they know how close or far it may be. 

Read the study guide:
The Lottery

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