The Lottery is a short story by American novelist, Shirley Jackson. It was first published in June, 1948, in an issue of The New Yorker. The story describes a fictional small town which observes an annual ritual known as ‘the lottery’. It has often been described as one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature.
The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 20th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner….
The lottery takes place each year around the time of the summer harvest. The local community, of only a few hundred townsfolk, rely on the crop of corn for their livelihood. The lottery as we shall discover has a very important role to play in ensuring that the harvest is successful.
The Lottery is about ritual sacrifice set in a small new England town in America. It explores the superstition driven process that a small community are prepared to go through in order to survive. The process that the residents follow in the lottery is surprisingly democratic, although the twist, that inevitably comes at the end, is quite shocking.
Shirley Jackson’s story is very much of a moral commentary. It explores the question of mob psychology and the lack of reason that can take over a large group of people. This ‘mob mentality’ makes them behave in a cruel manner believing it is for the ultimate good of the community.
Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon – local proverb
It could be said that The Lottery was an inspiration for books/films of a similar genre that came after it. Stephen King’s ‘Children of the Corn’ for example or the classic English movie ‘The Wicker Man’ starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and Britt Eklund.
The Dark Mind of Shirley Jackson
The Lottery certainly fits into the rather ‘dark’ theme that defines Shirley Jackson stories. For this reason when it was first published it is fair to say that it did not meet with universal acclaim. Indeed it was banned in many places. She was largely dismissed during her career as a simple purveyor of horror stories. This led one critic to refer to her as “Virginia Werewolf!”
That said, Shirley Jackson is a writer I would certainly recommend. Below I have listed some of her other works. One should especially consider checking out ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ frequently referred to as one of the best ghost stories of all time.
Shirley Jackson is most famous for her works of horror and mystery. If you are a fan of the genre I strongly recommend checking out some of her other work on Amazon….