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Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” explores gender norms and the conforming values of tradition through the suspenseful nature of a dystopian society. The story was published in 1940s America, when the United States was recovering from the events of World War II; however, Jackson purposefully established a vague time period to convey the unchanging societal norms. More importantly to the context of this short story, the nation was quickly approaching a time of strict family values known as the nuclear family traditions. In her story, Jackson employs detailed points, such as her descriptions of children and explanation of gender roles, as well as markers of suspense to both surprise the audience and to establish a connection to the time period. In “The Lottery,” each member of the town gathers in the square for the annual lottery, and after drawing a slip of paper out of a black box, one person is stoned and killed. As villagers gather in the square, the boys collect stones and place them in the center of the crowd, as the girls gossip to the side. Tessie Hutchinson is chosen at random and is stoned to death by the townspeople. Using a dystopian landscape mired in tradition, grounded in diction and the odd employment of fine details, Jackson challenges societal norms coupled with the oppression of women.

From the early parts of the story, Jackson both draws the suspense of the readers and oddly employs certain details—such as dividing the sexes— to challenge the gender norms. Jackson continues to establish separation in her story through defining the behavior of the schoolboys and schoolgirls. The boys immediately gathered “breaking out into boisterous play” and “selecting the smoothest stones”; however, the girls stood off to the side gossiping with family members (Jackson para. 2). Jackson is creating a microcosm for society’s strict gender norms— as the boys play at war and the girls cling to their family. Women are focused on forming communities as men are focused on the nature of war— much like the 1940s. After World War II, men were returning to a labor force comprised of over nineteen million women; although women had supported the nation on the home front, women were ultimately pushed from the labor field back into domestic, nuclear livelihoods (Gender on the Home Front…). From this shock of gender norms, Jackson is using the behavior and description of the children to show resentment and questioning among women. As Jackson describes the gathering schoolgirls, Jackson describes them as “clinging” to the hands of their older siblings (Jackson para. 2). As previously mentioned, Jackson not only wants to attack societal norms but also point out the oppressive perception of women still present in society. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the verb cling as “to hold together or to have a strong emotional attachment or dependence.” Jackson, by employing this specific verb stresses the oppressive nature of society and the view that women are dependent on their family. As men are expected to be the perfect symbols of warfare, women are expected to be strong members of the community and bond to their families— aligning with the views of nuclear family.

Within a system of sexist oppression, Jackson also uses direct, pungent diction to further attack conformity. At the surface, Jackson’s intentionally unique word choice easily establishes blind conformity in the plot. Children are typically viewed as innocent, yet Jackson advantageously employs styles of diction to destroy this perception. By showing their naivety and their blind corruption, the audience is even more horrified by their conformity to such a brutal tradition. As the town is gathering for the annual lottery, Jackson writes, “The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them…” (Jackson para. 2). Knowing the ending of the story, why were the children the first to arrive at the scene of the murder? In order to build upon a notion of conformity in this story, Jackson uses the innocence of children to convey the events as family-friendly only for the audience to be horrified by realizing it is a stoning. Synonymous to a fair or carnival where kids watch and play, the audience is appalled by such brutal events being utterly and unquestionably accepted by society.

Jackson’s choice of the final victim, Ms. Hutchinson reinforces the notion that, in this short story, she is concerned with the oppression of women. Although on the surface, Ms. Hutchinson is stoned to death directly because of blind conformity, Jackson uses this outcome to emphasize the oppression of women in society expanding throughout history. As Jackson employs a vague timeline, she references the unchanging societal values and the systematic structure that oppresses women, now existing in the audience’s present time. As Jackson discusses the danger of societal conforming at the surface and the readers are further enveloped into the play, strict gender norms present as a double-edged sword—oppressed by both a murderous tradition and the sexist views of society.

Although “The Lottery” is directly discussing the nature and consequences of blind societal conformity, the storyline also presents it as a commonality for women. Not only are women victim to the murderous traditions of the town, but also, they are dictated by the sexist pressures of society because women are already oppressed by the expectations of society. While this story can easily be read as revealing the consequences of allowing society to dictate the livelihood of individuals, even to the extreme, there is more to be said about the added expectations of women. Although the lottery randomly chooses one person to be stoned, Jackson is attacking the notion that all women are forced under societal expectations. Using the children as a microcosm for adults not only adds to the plotline of the story but also shows comments on the nature of society, as each citizen is merely a child blindly complying to society’s traditions. As the country followed aspects of a nuclear family, Jackson further explores the oppression of women and the interesting tension between genders. While the conformity addressed in this story does not directly impact women on the surface, the diction and specific details employed by Jackson not only serve to comment on the growing tension with gender norms but also critiquing the lack of action from the audience. As Jackson surprises the audience with the blind, appalling conformity of the town, the audience will both draw connections to their current time period and understand the strain of gender oppression, a consistent societal struggle for women relating to every time period.


Works Cited

Brooks, David. “How the Nuclear Family Broke Down.” Youtube, uploaded by The Atlantic, 10 Feb. 2020,

Buckley, Scott. “The Summoning.” YouTube, uploaded by royalty free music, 31 Oct. 2020,

“Cling.” Merriam-Webster, 2011.

“Gender on the Home Front.” The National WWII Museum: New Orleans, 11 July 2018,

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The Lottery and Other Stories. New York: Farrar, 1991, pp.291-302, Originally published in The New Yorker, 1948.

Keys of Moon. “Ozone.” YouTube, uploaded by royalty free music,  20 Sep. 2020,

Linklater, Richard. “Dazed and Confused (4/12) Movie CLIP – School’s Out for Summer (1993) HD.” Youtube, uploaded by Movieclips, 16 Jun. 2011.

Maxkomusic. “Dark side of our past.” YouTube, uploaded by royalty free music, 16 Oct. 2020,

Sackheim, Daniel. “Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery (1996) – Full TV Movie with Dan Cortese, Keri Russell.” YouTube, uploaded by demux, 02 Aug. 2020,

“The Lottery Creative Short Stories Hardcover.” Digital photograph. Amazon, 2008,

The Second World War. “Post-World War II Economy Booms with Soldiers Return to U.S.” YouTube, uploaded by The Second World War, 01 Dec. 2015,

Vyncke, Arthur. “Uncertainty.” YouTube, uploaded by royalty free music, 19 Oct. 2020,


Featured Image:

“The Lottery Creative Short Stories Hardcover.” Digital photograph. Amazon, 2008,

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