Situational Irony In The Lottery

What is the situational and dramatic irony in "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson?


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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Lottery" contains both situational and dramatic irony. Situational irony occurs when events in a story play out in a way that is the opposite of what one would expect. Dramatic irony occurs when the reader is aware of something that a character in the story isn't aware of. 

The first time a reader reads this story, he or she experiences a great deal of suspense because the point of the lottery is unclear. Eventually the reader comes to understand that the lottery has a sinister purpose. Usually a lottery is a drawing for a prize, but in this case, people are thrilled not to have "won," which is an example of situational irony. As the story draws to its conclusion and we find out that the townspeople stone an innocent woman, we see another example of situational irony. Usually in a close-knit community such as the one depicted, neighbors protect each other and help each other, but in this case, the neighbors join together to murder one of their own for no reason other than upholding a meaningless tradition. The tradition itself is situational irony. Usually traditions give more meaning to our lives and allow the younger generations to feel connected to their past. In this case, the reasons for the lottery and the meaning of the tradition have been lost, yet the townspeople cling to it blindly despite its brutality. The concept of fairness is another example of situational irony. While the drawing was completely fair and random, it resulted in a person being unfairly executed. 

Dramatic irony occurs when Tessie objects to the fairness of the lottery. Readers know that her husband was not treated unfairly in the drawing procedure, as Tessie claims. And readers also realize that if Tessie had really objected to the unfairness of the lottery itself, she should have spoken against it before her family's name was drawn. We can see through Tessie's protestations: If another family's name had received the black spot, she would have been like all the others, blindly submitting to the ritual while rejoicing that her family has escaped for another year. 

Jackson's use of suspense, situational irony, and dramatic irony makes this story powerful.


epollock | Student

Among the story’s many ironies, some of the most notable are:

1. The point of view. An objective narrator tells the story, remaining outside the characters’ minds, yet the narrator’s detachment contrasts with the attitude of the author, who presumably, like the reader, is horrified. That the day’s happenings can be recounted so objectively lends them both credence and force. (situational)

2. The setting. The beauty of the June day is out of keeping with the fact that what takes place on the town green is a ritual murder. (situational)

3. The misplaced chivalry. Though women can be stoned to death in these yearly proceedings, they are whenever possible protected from having to take part in the general drawing (paragraph 13).

4. The characters. The townspeople are perfectly ordinary types, "surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes" (3). Mr. Summers is in charge because he "had time and energy to devote to civic activities." (dramatic)

(4). Old Man Warner is a stickler for tradition. Neighbors chat amiably. Children play. All are grateful that the proceedings will be over in time for them to enjoy their noon meal.