THE LOTTERY by Shirley Jackson MLA Format


Jackson's story portrays an "average" New England village with "average" citizens engaged in a deadly rite, the annual selection of a sacrificial victim by means of a public lottery, and does so quite deviously: not until well along in the story do we suspect that the "winner" will be stoned to death by the rest of the villagers. One can imagine the average reader of Jackson's story protesting: But we engage in no such in human practices. Why are you accusing us of this?
A survey of what little has been written about "The Lottery" reveals two general critical attitudes: first, that it is about man's ineradicable primitive aggressively, or what Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren call his "all-too-human tendency to seize upon a scapegoat"; second, that it describes man's victimization by, in Helen Nebeker's words, "unexamined and unchanging traditions which he could easily change if he only realized their implications."


The most powerful man in a village, Mr. Summers, owns the village's largest business (a coal concern) and is also its major, since he has, Jackson writes, more "time and energy [read money and leisure] to devote to civic activities" than others (Jackson p. 292). (Summers' very name suggests that he has become a man of leisure through his wealth.) Next in line is Mr. Graves, the village's second most powerful government official-its postmaster. (His name may suggest the gravity of officials.) And beneath Mr. Graves is Mr. Martin, who has the economically advantageous position of being the grocer in a village of three hundred.

These three most powerful men who control the town, economically as well as politically, also happen to administer the lottery. Mr. Summers is its official, sworn in yearly by Mr. Graves (Jackson p. 294). Mr. Graves helps Mr. Summers make up the lottery slips (Jackson p. 293). And Mr. Martin steadies the lottery box as the slips are stirred (p. 292). In the off season, the lottery box is stored either at their places of business or their residences

When Bill Hutchinson forces his wife Tessie to open her lottery slip to the crowd, Jackson writes, "It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with [a] heavy pencil in [his] coal-company office" (Jackson p. 301). At the very moment when the lottery's victim is revealed, Jackson appends a subordinate clause in which we see the blackness (evil) of Mr. Summers' (coal) business being transferred to the black dot on the lottery slip. At one level at least, evil in Jackson's text is linked to a disorder, promoted by capitalism, in the material organization of modern society.