Foreshadowing In The Lottery

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Since by definition foreshadowing involves suggestions, or hints, of what is to come in a narrative, it typically occurs in the exposition of a short story or in the early chapters of novels. Often the foreshadowing is so subtle that a reader does not recognize it until reading further in the narrative; indeed, such is the case in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." For, she camouflages the horror to come with distracting details. Interestingly, Jackson uses foreshadowing from the exposition and through the rising action of her story, ending only at the climax.

Here are some examples of the subtle foreshadowing of the terrible conclusion:

  • The children, recently released from school for the summer, feel uneasy about their liberty. They gather together quietly for a while, seemingly because they are not yet accustomed to their freedom from class, but later the reader realizes their discomfort is for another reason. 
  • Bobby Martin "had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example." This action hints at the stoning of Tessie Hutchinson
  • The men gather, but their "jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed." Again there is a discomfort and uneasiness suggested.
  • The women call to their children, who come "reluctantly." Only Bobby Martin runs "laughing back to the pile of stones," an action which later reveals his sadistic nature.
  • Mr. Summers, who "had time and energy to devote to civic activities," arrives in the square with an old wooden black box, which seems ominous, as it later proves to be.
  • Since names are often used in foreshadowing, the name of the postmaster, Mr. Graves, hints at the dark ending, as does Mrs. Delacroix, with croix meaning "cross" in French. Tessie is not crucified, but she is certainly becomes the sacrificial victim just as many martyrs of early Christianity were.
  • "A sudden hush fell on the crowd" as Mr. Summers "cleared his throat and looked at the list." Jackson's diction here expresses again a certain uneasiness and foreboding about Mr. Summers's forthcoming duty. 
  • After Mr. Summers gets everyone's attention, there is "a long pause, a breathless pause" and "[F]or a minute, no one moved...."

For more analysis of The Lottery, watch this video: