The Lottery Setting

What is the setting in "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson?

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The setting of "The Lottery" has all the appearance of being a wholesome small town in rural America.  Through imagery and detail, like "the flowers were blooming profusely, and the grass was richly green," Jackson conveys a pastoral feeling of a gentle summer.  The men speak of tractors and farming, and the women wear "faded house dresses and sweaters." 

Only as Jackson develops the events occurring at the town square does the reader begin to question the premise of the story; the reader begins to wonder why exactly do the boys fill their pockets with large stones and what the purpose of the ancient black box is.  Jackson's use of setting in "The Lottery" is one of the greatest assets to the story; by creating a perfectly normal looking town, Jackson makes the gruesome stoning in the end seem even more horrific and disturbing, primarily because the citizens and setting were portrayed to be so average and common place.  Through the use of setting in "The Lottery," Jackson argues that blindly following tradition can make even the most innocent seeming of small towns seem monstrous.

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The setting of the story is important because it helps create the ironic tension between what the inhabitants should be like and how they actually are.

1. The setting is a "modern" small town for Jackson's time, with a traditional belief system. The beliefs are archaic, however, so the juxtaposition of the happy town, where people gather at street corners to talk of "planting and rain, tractors and taxes", with the ritual sacrifice is the first ironic contrast in the setting.

2. A second important aspect of the setting is that it occurs during the summer, less than a week after midsummer, the summer solstice (when the sun appears to stand still, and when the sun is highest and longest in the sky); midsummer was a time when people gathered together to celebrate the sun and its life-giving power. Yet the ritual the townspeople perform is a stoning. (Biblical allusions abound-the sun/son, life vs original sin and throwing the first stone)

3. The physical setting, the clear, sunny day, with flowers blooming profusely, rich green grass, and children on summer vacation is in direct contrast with the dark deed that the townspeople with participate in.

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Probably the first and most important was placing this story in a normal, civilized town. These were people who were going about doing things that everyone does during the day and took a quick break from that to see who gets stoned to death this year.

"but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner."

Secondly, this lottery is placed as a normal, once a year occurance. Nobody seems to question the fact that the townspeople continue with this tradition. In fact, some go so far as to speak down about other towns who've given up their lotteries.

"The lottery was conducted--as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program--by Mr. Summers. who had time and energy to devote to civic activities."

"Some places have already quit lotteries." Mrs. Adams said.
"Nothing but trouble in that," Old Man Warner said stoutly. "Pack of young fools."

As a third element, Jackson appeals to the family urge in all of us by making sure to include little Davy in the process. We are met head on with the mortifying thought of a small child helping to stone his mother (and the thought that the table could have been reversed with mother stoning son). Again, this all seems like a natural, normal thing.

"The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles."

The biggest thing to realize with all of these examples, is that Jackson made this very real. The appeal of the story is that you could be reading historical fiction. There is debate about whether this story was written mainly as a piece of feministic literature or simply a statement about mankind and our nature to be followers, but the basic appeal of the story is in its "real" nature.

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