The Lottery Teaching Approaches
by Shirley Jackson

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Teaching Approaches

Theme Revealed Through Symbolism: The sparse style employed in “The Lottery” focuses the reader’s attention on the objects and individuals that Jackson chooses to emphasize in the story. From the items required to conduct the ritual of the lottery itself to the allusive names of the characters living in the small town, symbolism is a key vehicle through which the story considers the often severe role of ritual in human society.

  • For discussion: What physical objects does the town use to conduct and execute the lottery? What abstract ideas do these objects represent?
  • For discussion: Does the significance of these objects develop over the course of the text? If so, how? Does these changes in significance suggest any themes in the text?
  • For discussion: Consider the names of the different characters in the town. What do their names suggest about their characters? To what extent does each character’s actions and/or dialogue develop in accordance with that expectation?
  • For discussion: Ask students to what extent “The Lottery” is an allegory. What does the story suggest about human behavior?

Situational Irony in Small-Town America: The climax of “The Lottery” is shocking because the opening paragraphs successfully establish a quaint, idyllic setting. With its description of a summer holiday in a small, rural American town, the climax stands in stark relief. By using situational irony in such a way, the story reveals one of its primary themes: that ritual and tradition can be used to regulate and rationalize human cruelty.

  • For discussion: After reading the first two paragraphs, ask students to consider which details the narrator provides about the setting of the story. What ideas or experiences do these details evoke? What do students predict “The Lottery” will be about?
  • For discussion: How do characters rationalize the lottery? What aspects of the small-town setting may or may not necessitate the lottery?
  • For discussion: What do the lottery and the subsequent death of Tessie Hutchinson reveal about human nature?
  • For discussion: What details do readers learn about the customs and social norms of the town depicted in “The Lottery”? Which characters seem to have power? What gives those characters power? How are social expectations reinforced, and how do characters protest against them?

Suspense Developed Through Characterization: As Tessie Hutchinson grows more and more frantic, readers become increasingly aware that this is not the fun-filled summer day they are expecting. As a prominent horror writer, Jackson uses characterization to build suspense in “The Lottery.”

  • For discussion: Describe Tessie’s behavior and dialogue over the course of the story. What does she say and do? What information about her community does she reveal to readers?
  • For discussion: How do the other people in the community respond to Tessie? How do their attitudes toward her change over the course of the story?
  • For discussion: When does the tone of Tessie’s voice begin to differ from those of the other characters? Why do Tessie and her husband have such different responses to the first round of the lottery?

The Role of Ritual and Tradition: At its center, “The Lottery” addresses the role of ritual and tradition in human societies. Some read the lottery as a means of authorizing human violence and rationalizing savagery, whereas others question whether the lottery controls, or even limits, the human propensity toward violence. Along with works such as Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm, “The Lottery” forces readers to consider what cruelties might be masked by traditions. 

  • For discussion: What value does the lottery hold for the people in the village? Does it carry meaning? Has its meaning changed over time? 
  • For discussion: In what ways do characters enact and support the lottery? In what ways do characters rebel against it? 
  • For discussion: Why do the villagers participate in the lottery? Is there any evidence as to what function it serves? 
  • For discussion: How does...

(The entire section is 1,337 words.)