Student Question

In "The Lottery," why doesn't Jackson explicitly describe the villagers' horrific ritual?

Expert Answers

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Jackson deliberately refrains from letting the reader know that the lottery in her story ends with a brutal death by stoning because she wants to surprise and shock the reader and because she wants the reader to see a lovely little village to get across the message that even the most decent of human beings can be persuaded to perform inhumane acts.  Any story is only as good as its ability to engage the reader.  Had Jackson begun by letting the reader know the end of the story, it is doubtful that anyone would still be reading it.  As it is, it is assigned, read, and written about by probably millions of students, most of whom find it to be an engaging story.  Similarly, if Jackson began with wicked villagers, the message she sought to convey could not have gotten through to her readers. When we see wicked people doing wicked things in a story, we are able to tell ourselves we could never be like that because we are good people.  What Jackson understood and what she wanted her readers to understand was that perfectly good people could be lulled into doing terrible evil.  What may have been on her mind was Hitler's Germany, in which clearly not every single person was evil, but also clearly, in which most people were lulled or intimidated into performing evil acts.  A skillful writer, Jackson made a good choice for her story, setting us all up for a surprise and an important lesson.

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