Discussion Topic

Literary device exemplified by children gathering stones in "The Lottery."

Summary:

The children gathering stones in "The Lottery" exemplifies foreshadowing. This action hints at the violent conclusion of the story, subtly preparing the reader for the grim outcome while maintaining an initially innocent appearance.

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What literary device is exemplified by the children gathering stones in "The Lottery"?

We could also describe this as situational irony. Irony occurs when a discrepancy exists between what we expect and what actually happens, and situational irony occurs when events arise that defy expectation. When the narrator describes the children, recently out of school for the summer, playing "boisterous[ly]" and "talking among themselves," we could hardly anticipate that they are picking "the smoothest and roundest stones" so that they can participate in the violent and horrific stoning of an innocent, if outspoken, woman. We tend to think of children as innocent, and the description of them in the second paragraph does nothing to change our expectation of their innocence. Therefore, when we learn later that they are, essentially, little murderers who are complicit in and even excited about the public, ritualistic stoning of one of their neighbors, this certainly defies our expectation.

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What literary device is exemplified by the children gathering stones in "The Lottery"?

The device used in this instance is foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is where the author gives us a small hint of what is to come, without entirely giving away the outcome of the situation. In "The Lottery," the children initially are gathering the stones in apparent innocence as they enjoy the beautiful weather and the end of their school day. As the story progresses and the lottery ensues, the reader becomes aware that the stones serve a much more nefarious purpose. The children were actually gathering stones in order to stone an innocent citizen to death. 

By including the reference to the stones in the beginning of the story, the author creates an atmosphere of curiosity and innocence, as the reader wonders what the stones are for and likely believes they are for some childish game. When it becomes apparent that the stones are for murdering a person, the juxtaposition of the two different uses is highlighted.

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What literary device is used to describe boys gathering rocks in "The Lottery"?

Foreshadowing is the best way to classify the gathering of stones early on in "The Lottery."

Authors use foreshadowing to hint at what will happen later in the story. As "The Lottery" opens, Shirley Jackson uses elements of setting to create a false sense of security. It is a clear sunny day, and the grass is "richly green." Children are still talking about the previous school year, and as they gather together, several of the boys begin stuffing their pockets full of stones. A handful of boys "eventually ma[k]e a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and [guard] it against the raids of the other boys."

Within this context, readers might initially believe that the boys are collecting stones for some sort of childhood game to enjoy on this beautiful summer day. Since this many details are provided concerning the gathering of stones, it seems that this is likely an important detail and one which will be explained more fully later in the story.

Indeed, these rocks are significant, but not in the way that readers initially imagine. Their purpose is not for innocent childhood play; instead, they will be used to stone a member of the community. Upon rereading the story, you might notice that when the adults gather, they stand "away from the pile of stones"; no one wants to be associated too closely with the stones when the identity of the victim hasn't been selected yet.

You might also classify the gathering of stones as situational irony (since the gathering of rocks by innocent children certainly does not lead to the outcome readers would expect) or examine the symbolism which the rocks hold. Overall, however, the best way to identify the literary technique in this example is foreshadowing.

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