Within “The Lottery,” there are many different twists and turns that the story takes to lead its readers down a disturbing path. With a title like “The Lottery,” one might think that the characters within this short story are going to be lucky. However, in this story, no one wants to win the lottery. In this story, a small town comes together once a year to hold a lottery, but this is no ordinary lottery. Each household selects a slip of paper from a black box, and whoever selects the marked slip loses. Then, members of that family pick slips again, and whichever family member selects the marked slip is stoned to death by other members of the town. This is a gruesome end to the story, which some readers may not see coming. However, the stoning is somewhat foreshadowed by Jackson. In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” the author creates a twisted feeling of suspense through her diction and descriptions in order to provide a critique on the normalization of violence within society in reaction to World War II.
Early in the short story, Jackson discusses how the children are gathering for this lottery. She says that “The children assembled first, of course” when listing out the order in which people began to arrive for the event (Jackson 1). This wording implies that the children are always the first to assemble for this event, almost in a way similar to that of a parade. The kids seem excited for the lottery, and the use of “of course” makes it seem like there has never been a time that the children were not the first in line. Children are typically viewed as innocent; however, in this story they are about to partake in murder. This shows the difference between the morals of Jackson and those of the townspeople. It seems like the townspeople no longer view this lottery as wrong or as murder, which intentionally misleads the reader by making this seem like an innocent, family-friendly event.
Later in the paragraph, the author states that the “feeling of liberty” sat over the children (Jackson 1). The use of “liberty” here makes it seem as though the kids feel more grown up for participating in the lottery. This word choice is also somewhat ironic because although these children feel free, someone is about the lose their life due to the lottery. She then goes on in the sentence to say that the children “tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play” (Jackson 1). The use of “boisterous” makes the energy surrounding this event feel casual, cheerful, and energetic, even though someone is about to lose their life. It makes the lottery seem like a carnival or fair rather than someone’s death sentence.
The author later uses imagery to describe the stones that the children are stockpiling as “the smoothest and roundest stones” (Jackson 1). These stones may be the best for throwing, which is why the children hoard them in order to have better throws. The description of these stones is also very different from the black box that is later described in the story as “no longer completely black”, “splintered badly”, and “faded or stained” (Jackson 2). These stones could be described in this manner to almost make them seem like they are perfect or pure, compared to the black box that may represent the impurities of this tradition. By using these perfect stones, they are ridding the impurities of the town by stoning one of their members to death.
One of the children’s names in this story is “Dickie Delacroix”, who is piling rocks with some of the other little boys in the town (Jackson 1). The last name Delacroix means “the cross” which is somewhat ironic (“Delacroix” para. 1). The lottery tradition is anything but holy, yet this last name signifies the cross. This could be a contrast to how the townspeople think that their tradition is extremely important, and that they may even think that it is God’s will. It could also be an allusion to the crucifixion of Jesus, because He was killed for having different beliefs than those around Him, similar to what happens to Tessie Hutchinson in this story. She opposes the lottery, yet she is conveniently the one who ends up “winning” and dying in the end.
In this same sentence, Jackson discusses how these boys made their pile of stones and “guarded it against the raids of the other boys” (Jackson 1). This seems like typical behavior for children; however, the use of the word “raids” has more of a military connotation. This word choice is slowly starting to make the reader associate these children with killing and violence, which is nothing close to the normal connotation society has with children. The use of “raids” may also foreshadow the violence that takes place later on in the story. Even though no one steals their rocks, by using the word “raids” the reader is almost expecting something violent to happen within this story.
All of these details revolve around the violence that is seen within this story. It seems that within this town, violence has been normalized and almost celebrated. These townspeople get excited for an annual event where they end up murdering someone, and they criticize other communities that no longer partake in the event. Although Jackson makes the atmosphere of this event seem energetic and festive, through the language she uses, readers get a twisted sense of suspense and almost know that something gruesome is bound to happen.
This story can be viewed as a critique on the normalization of violence. Jackson wrote this story three years after the end of World War II, one of the most gruesome wars that the world has ever seen. Throughout World War II, there was lots of propaganda that dehumanized different groups of people. This dehumanization promoted killings and other violence throughout the war (Luft 3). Mass genocide was occurring, but many people were still living out their daily lives. There were also many campaigns to gain support for the war in involved countries. All of these aspects seemed to be supporting violence and encouraging it. “The Lottery” seems to play on this normalization of violence and critique it. This event is seen by these townspeople as just another annual celebration, and those that disagree with it are considered crazy. It is likely that Jackson is critiquing the dehumanization and normalization of violence that was created during World War II and showing this through the townspeople within her short story.
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is a story centered around the normalization of violence and dehumanization during the time of World War II. Jackson uses her suspicious diction and violent plot to convey her point. This may serve as a cautionary tale, warning readers against the powers of a society that has fallen into the wrong hands. If society is not careful, the human race may become overly comfortable with violence and allow for cruel actions, such as these described within “The Lottery,” to occur on a daily basis.
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