Historical-Biographical Criticism Paper Example: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

2021-08-02 21:30:55
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University of Richmond
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Literature review
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Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is a story for someone interested in short quick read stories about violence. The story covers the conflict between old traditions and modernity as the characters strive to abide by the barbaric tradition of stoning their loved ones. Born in 1916 and having lived through the events of the First World War that ended in 1918, the age of the Great Depression in early 1930s, and finally the major Second World War that ended in 1945, Jackson's writing of this story was greatly influenced by the events of violence that had reduced human life to nothing of value. As its title goes, "The Lottery" is more of a life gambling game, where people pick papers from a black box, and the person that chooses the paper with a black spot is stoned to death by all the other people.

Jackson's story presents a fading old tradition that has been passed over from one generation to the other, and nobody seems to have an exact origin of this tradition. Even the Old Mr. Waner cannot tell the origin of this culture (Jackson). The story was first published in 1948 in The New York Time and depicts a society struggling between the aged traditions and the dawn of modernity. Jackson is concerned about some cultures that did not value human life. Her concern is that some traditions are just too brutal to survive today.

Jackson's distaste for the brutal old tradition is first evident through the choice of the setting of the story. The setting of the story, Jackson describes the setting of the event as a square place between the office box and the bank. The place has rich green grass, flowers blossoming, and it is a warm morning in summer (Jackson 1). The place is lively to the extent that one cannot believe that it can host an archaic tradition that gambles with human life (Cross). Unfortunately, in spite of all the life and the modernity that seem to have engulfed the place, the archaic tradition still finds a place because of the old, or rather, the aged still hold such a tradition too dear to let go. Nobody is strong enough to question any value that such a tradition brings because the elders are the only vocal individuals on the matters of traditions.

The choice of characters by Jackson also depicts a society that is struggling to overcome a brutal tradition. Mr. Summers and Mr. Waner seem to be the only people interested in the event, even though almost all the people attend the event. Mrs. Hutchinson arrives late to the event claiming that she had forgotten the date of the event (Jackson). This implies that the event does not hold such a significant meaning because people are busy with other family roles. The fact that the children attend the event first is an indication that the event has lost its sense among the aged. Furthermore, when the first lot is completed, and Mr. Bill picks the ill-fated piece of paper, Tessie complains that it was not fair and the family is forced to choose documents again. During the second pick of documents, one schoolgirl whispers "I hope it's not Nancy" to which Mr. Waner responds "People ain't the way they used to be" (Jackson). It is ironical that Mr. Waner can notice such a change but still impose the barbaric tradition on people.

The sudden end of the story leaves the reader wondering what Jackson wanted to communicate, but luckily, the answer is in Tessie's last words as the crowd stones her for picking the ill-fated piece of paper (Reading on a rainy day). Tessie screams "It's not fairit's Not fair" indicating that it is high time for the people to rethink the barbaric tradition. Even her husband and her children stone her, also though she was the one that challenged and called for a repeat of picking of the papers when the lot fell on her husband (Goodreads). Jackson gives the story a sudden ending to create an impact, leaving the reader wondering whether indeed there is a place that people still practice such brutal games. The story is also short and narrated in the second person point of view where the narrator is a witness from the start of the event to the end where Tessie is stoned. By taking a witness position, Jackson wants to communicate to the reader that indeed she does not approve of the tradition, but she is just an informant for the society to act.

Jackson's story is compelling from the choice of the title, the characters, and brevity. The title captures precisely what unfolds in the story, where the people attending the event do not know who will pick the paper with the black spot, even Mr. Summer himself. By making it brief, Jackson makes sure that the main idea of eradicating the barbaric tradition reaches as many audiences as possible. This also creates an appeal to the audience to be ambassadors that there are traditions that are overtaken by time (Literary ladies guide). Thus, since it is a traditional game that diminishes the value of human life, Jackson suggests that such a game has been overtaken by time and should end.

 

Works Cited

Cross, Stephanie. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson Review. The Guardian, 16 Jan. 2011. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/16/shirley-jackson-lottery-stories-review. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017

Jackson, Shirley. "The Lottery" (1948). https://sites.middlebury.edu/individualandthesociety/files/2010/09/jackson_lottery.pdf Accessed 1 Nov. 2017

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (Short Fiction review). Reading On a Rainy Day. n.d. http://www.readingonarainyday.com/2012/03/lottery-by-Shirley-Jackson-short.html. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (1949) a Review. Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life, n.d. http://www.literaryladiesguide.com/book-reviews/lottery-adventures-james-harris-shirley-jackson-1949/. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. Goodreads, n.d. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6219656-the-lottery. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017

 

 

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