Overview

  • An objective third-person narrator relates the plot of “The Lottery.” The narrator is purely an observer and gives readers access to the characters’ actions and dialogue rather than their thoughts and feelings.
  • Jackson gives her characters meaningful names. Mr. Summers, for example, represents vitality, while Mr. Graves represents death.
  • The purpose of the lottery is concealed until the very end. There are hints early in the story, however, that indicate that people are reluctant to participate in the lottery, and Tessie’s insistence that the lottery isn’t fair betrays her terror at the thought of “winning” it.

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Analysis

Narration, Tone, and Style

Shirley Jackson's “The Lottery” is told from an objective, third-person point of view. The narrator is positioned as an external observer, who is not involved in the proceedings of the lottery. It reveals very little about the thoughts or feelings of the characters. The only way to know the characters’ thoughts is through the descriptions of their behavior or the dialogue tags. This lack of access to thoughts and feelings enhances the contrast between the violence of the characters' actions and their apparent civility. Since readers do not know what they are thinking, the story takes on a detached, apathetic tone. Readers are not given the sense that anyone cares about Tessie’s death, increasing the disparity between reader reaction and character reaction.

The detached tone of the story also speaks to the desensitization of the townspeople to violence. The lottery is a yearly tradition. Based on the participation of the children, this is no one’s first lottery. Every person in attendance, except for the reader, knows what to expect from the ceremony. Their nervousness provides a tense undercurrent to the initial drawing by the heads of each household. However, after the Hutchinsons are chosen, the mood shifts to one of solemn resignation—for everyone except for Tessie. Tessie’s outbursts about the unfairness of the selection process provide a stark contrast to everyone else’s quiet relief. Even the rest of the Hutchinson family seems resigned to the process. The detached and objective tone of the rest of the story provides a chilling backdrop to the cries of a condemned woman.

Symbols

The Lottery

The titular lottery in the short story represents blind adherence to tradition. The townspeople do not know when or why it started, but they continue to practice it out of fear. For them, the lottery is a cornerstone of their society. To give it up would irrevocably change their culture. The lottery is so ingrained in the small town that they don’t hesitate to kill whomever is selected. For the townspeople, this is a normal, accepted fact of life. There is no guilt or hesitation exhibited by anyone other than Tessie as she is stoned to death. They have all done this before, and they will likely all do it again. Old Man Warner claims that “there has always been a lottery.” In his eyes,...

(The entire section is 4,538 words.)