What is the tone of Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery"?

The tone of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" may be described as moving from tranquil to apprehensive and disturbing. The narrator's tone in telling the story is objective and detached.

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In the beginning of "The Lottery ," the author effectively lulls the reader into a false sense of tranquility. The first words used to describe the scene are "clear and sunny." She goes on to tell of a warm day in a quaint village with flowers and green grass....

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In the beginning of "The Lottery," the author effectively lulls the reader into a false sense of tranquility. The first words used to describe the scene are "clear and sunny." She goes on to tell of a warm day in a quaint village with flowers and green grass. Once the scene is set, the first characters to arrive are the children. Their arrival continues the feelings of comfort and normality. Upon reading the story for the first time, the reader is unaware that the gathering of stones by the children is the first sign of things to come.

An indication of a slight change in the tone occurs when it is stated that the men smile rather than laugh at each other's jokes. There is now some apprehension as noted when the "villagers kept their distance" from the stool and the black box. Although there is mention of the lottery, the comparison of this event to others such as dances or Halloween activities keeps the reader from knowing what the lottery entails.

Following some history of the details and procedures of the lottery, the tone of apprehension builds as the lottery begins. The crowd becomes quiet as Mr. Summers reads the names of the families. The author uses words and phrases such as "nervously" and "she held her breath" to build a sense of nervous anticipation in the reader. Tessie Hutchinson's protests of the drawing continue these feelings. Finally, with the statement, "A stone hit her on the side of the head," the tone completes its shift from calm to one of horror.

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The tone of "The Lottery" is objective and detached. The narrator writes in the calm, journalistic style of a neutral bystander reporting on a scene they are not part of. This journalistic tone is set in the opening paragraph, which is full of facts—such as the date, (June 27th), how many people participate in the lottery, and how long it takes.

The very neutral tone of the narrator provides a contrast to the shocking and grisly event being described, heightening the reader's surprise and horror at what unfolds. There is nothing in the narrator's tone to tip us off to the fact that this is anything but a normal gathering. There are a few ominous details, such as the piles of rocks the children gather, but primarily the community is depicted as a very ordinary one, composed of farmers and housewives.

Using this kind of deadpan narrative voice is an effective technique. The narrator stands back and lets readers experience the emotions that the "lottery" elicits for themselves.

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I think you need to be aware that the tone of any given work does not necessarily stay the same. This is a case in point with "The Lottery", because the tone has a distinct shift from a peaceful, normal, everyday kind of tone to a grimly horrific tone that finishes the tale. Note how Jackson almost from the first sentence deliberately misleads us into thinking that this story is going to be something very different from what it actually is:

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.

This creates a happy, cheery kind of tone and as we read on and discover that the villagers are gathering together, we expect the lottery to be some form of village fete or festival. Note too how the children, men and women engage in "normal" kinds of activities - the men swap jokes, the women engage in gossip, the children play with stones. There is nothing to indicate the sudden change of tone that leads to the devastating finale.

However, it is as the villagers get whittled down to the Hutchinson family it is clear that the tone subtly changes as Mr. Summers asks Bill to show Tessie's paper in a "hushed voice." As the villagers, and even the friends of Tessie like Mrs. Delacroix rush to gather stones, the tone shifts to one of horror as we realise that the villagers are going to stone Tessie to death.

Thus in this story the tone is not constant - it shifts towards the end of the story from a normal, peaceful tone to one that is frighteningly disturbing.

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Tone, referring to the feeling that the author creates, shifts in "The Lottery" from peaceful, calm, and tranquil to cautious to horrific.

In the beginning the setting opens in an everyday American almost nostalgic town. But as the story continues beyond the first page, much of the language contributes to hints of discomfort or nervousness. Words throughout the middle like "nervously", "humorlessly",  "awkwardly", and "a sudden hush fell over the crowd" all help us feel the tension that we as readers don't really understand in the moment. In describing Mrs. Delacroix, Jackson writes:

She held her breath while her husband went forward.

This proves the characters underwent incredible stress and apprehensively anticipated something, but we do not know what until the last 30-40 words.

These last few words demonstrate the final tone of horror. To see a pleasant town use such a brutal form of fertilizing their crops through human sacrifice mortifies the audience.

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