Read the lottery (1948) by Shirley Jackson and answer the questions below.

1. Were you shocked by the ending of the story? If not, give specific points from the text that foreshadowed the ending.

2. In what ways does the author use characterization to make readers relate personally to the main characters in the story? Why do you think Jackson has chosen to use common people for her characters? Would this story have been different if characters of a higher level of sophistication had been used? Explain your answers.

3. In considering setting, where is this story located? In what ways does the setting (remember, this can include time and place) impact the story? Would this story have ″worked″ if it had been set, for example, in a large city? Explain your answers.

4. What seems to have been the original purpose of the lottery? What do the people believe about the lottery? Why have some of the other villages given up the practice – and why hasn′t this one? Why do you suppose we are reluctant to give up traditions? Explain your answers.

5. Do you think that it is important that the original paraphernalia for the lottery has been lost over the years? Since that has been lost, we have to assume the ceremony is also different. What do you think the original ceremony was like – do you suppose it was much different from the ceremony witnessed in this story?

6. Do you feel that the lottery is a collective act of murder? Is it morally justified? Is tradition sufficient justification for such actions? Do you think the crowd would have carried out the lottery if Davy had ″won″ and was chosen? Explain.

7. Does this story remind you of any books or film(s) you may have read or seen in the past few years that used a ″lottery″ form of social control? Which books or films? How are they alike and different from ″The Lottery?″ What was the ″tradition″ followed in that film? Explain.
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Sample Answer

Sample Answer

Title: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson: An Analysis of Themes and Symbolism

Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” published in 1948, is a thought-provoking and unsettling tale that challenges societal norms and explores the dark side of human nature. Through the use of foreshadowing, characterization, setting, and symbolism, Jackson crafts a narrative that leaves readers shocked and questioning the power of tradition. This essay will delve into the various aspects of the story and provide an analysis of its themes and messages.

Foreshadowing the Shocking Ending:
The ending of “The Lottery” is indeed shocking, but Jackson skillfully plants subtle hints throughout the narrative. For instance, the description of the black box used to draw the lottery tickets, which is old and shabby, foreshadows the underlying darkness of the lottery tradition. Additionally, the casual mention of other villages giving up the lottery practice suggests that something ominous lies beneath the surface. These foreshadowing elements build tension and create an atmosphere of unease, ultimately leading to the shocking revelation in the story’s conclusion.

Relatable Characters and Purposeful Choice:
Jackson uses characterization to make readers personally relate to the main characters in “The Lottery.” By selecting common people as her characters, she establishes a sense of familiarity and relatability. This choice enables readers to empathize with the characters’ emotions and reactions, making the story’s events all the more impactful. If characters of a higher level of sophistication had been used, it would have created a distance between the readers and the story’s message. By employing ordinary individuals, Jackson emphasizes that anyone can be a part of a harmful tradition or system.

Impact of Setting:
“The Lottery” takes place in a small, rural village, which significantly impacts the story. The close-knit nature of the community intensifies the sense of collective responsibility and conformity. In such an environment, social pressure plays a crucial role in maintaining traditions, even when they turn cruel or violent. The setting also contributes to the isolation and lack of external influence, allowing oppressive practices to persist unchallenged. If the story had been set in a large city, where individualism and diversity are more prevalent, it would have been challenging for such a tradition to thrive.

Purpose of the Lottery and Reluctance to Give Up Traditions:
The original purpose of the lottery remains unclear; however, it seems to have originated as a fertility ritual or sacrifice to ensure good harvests. Over time, its significance has been lost or twisted. The villagers believe that participating in the lottery brings prosperity and prevents calamity. Other villages have abandoned the practice, possibly due to evolving societal values or enlightenment. However, this village continues the lottery due to a combination of fear, blind adherence to tradition, and social conditioning. Humans tend to be reluctant to give up traditions because they provide a sense of identity, stability, and belonging.

Importance of Lost Paraphernalia and Ceremony:
The loss of the original paraphernalia has symbolic significance in “The Lottery.” It represents the erosion of knowledge regarding the true meaning and purpose behind the lottery. The changing ceremony indicates that traditions often evolve over time, losing their original essence while still being cherished and perpetuated by subsequent generations. It is likely that the original ceremony was more explicitly tied to fertility rites or religious practices, but in its current form, it has become nothing more than a cold-blooded act carried out by an entire community.

The Lottery as Collective Murder and Moral Justification:
“The Lottery” can be interpreted as a collective act of murder because it involves randomly selecting an individual to be stoned to death by their own community members. However, whether it is morally justified is subjective and depends on individual perspectives. Tradition alone cannot be a sufficient justification for such cruel actions; it merely perpetuates them through generations. If Davy had “won” and been chosen in the lottery, there is a high probability that the crowd would have carried out the act because they have been conditioned to believe in its necessity.

Similarities and Differences with Other Works:
“The Lottery” resonates with other works that explore social control through lotteries or rituals. One such example is Suzanne Collins’ novel “The Hunger Games,” where children are selected through a lottery system for a televised fight to the death. Both stories highlight how societies can manipulate traditions or ceremonies for control and oppression. However, “The Lottery” focuses on a smaller scale within a close-knit community, whereas “The Hunger Games” portrays a dystopian society on a grander scale with more overt violence.

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” remains a timeless piece of literature that challenges our understanding of tradition, conformity, and societal norms. Through its shocking ending, relatable characters, impactful setting, exploration of tradition’s grip on communities, and examination of morality, Jackson invites readers to question their own society’s practices and reflect on the dangers of unquestioning adherence to tradition. “The Lottery” serves as a cautionary tale that reminds us of the importance of critically examining our rituals and beliefs to ensure they align with our values as a society.


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