"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

Essay by riofan40University, Bachelor'sA+, April 2004

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The uproar from the readers of the New Yorker after the publication of Shirley Jackson's story "The Lottery" is certainly understandable when you take into consideration the date of it's publication, 1948. America was still recovering from a very bloody and devastating war for human rights. America was just beginning to become aware of the atrocities the Nazi's committed in their eagerness to destroy other, "lesser" peoples. "The Lottery" upsets the reader's sense of equilibrium.

We know the story takes place in the twentieth century by the depiction of Mr. Summers wearing a "clean white shirt and blue jeans" (269), which making the story's impact more immediate. At no point does the author tell us where the lottery takes place, but we can make an educated guess from clues such as the Anglo-Saxon names of the families. More important, the lottery is itself is a model -- albeit twisted--of participatory democracy.

This is a strong indication of North American placement. The lottery is also vaguely reminiscent of New England's history of witch trials and persecutions. Many Americans, after the end of World War II and the revelations of the early Nuremburg trials in the 40's, smugly asserted that such atrocities could not happen in the United States. After all, singling out one person, one religion, one race for contemptible treatment--these things just could not happen here.

But as we all learned in the 1950's with racial discrimination and segregation that it most definitely can happen here. Despite modernity, democracy, and American neighborliness, the primitive, selfish, superstitious ghost of paganism can still rear its ugly head. Published today, this story may well have received just as loud an outcry as it did in 1948. Especially in light of the recent, war in Iraq. American's shouted loudly...