“The Lottery” novel by Shirley Jackson is one of her best literary elements that is still relevant in today’s setting. She remains one of the influential persons in the literature field. Her Lottery novel is viewed as a controversial text that applies violence and magic to pass its message to the readers. One of the essential aspects to note is that the novel resonates with contemporary culture. Jackson concentrates on a stoning practice for anyone who wins the lottery. Members abide by this practice irrespective of its effects. Their actions show their high level of individualism and desire to abide by traditions. The author establishes a link between violence and civilization to inform the audience about the need to abandon harmful practices. Jackson’s Lottery novel resonates with the modern culture as most global communities have adopted individualism rather than collectivism and continue to rely on detrimental traditions that call for strategic action changes.
Life and History of Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson started her studies at Brighton High School, where she graduated in 1934. Before Jackson joined schooling, she had developed an interest in writing short stories and poetry at her teenage level. She later joined the University of Rochester and later moved to Syracuse University. While at Rochester University, she spent most of her time wandering around the institution instead of studying, which led to her suspension. She joined Syracuse University to pursue a Bachelor of Arts Degree, and it was when she was undertaking her studies that she developed an interest in fiction editing. She was actively involved in writing for the campus humor magazine (Shirley Jackson’s Biography). She gained appropriate exposure during her schooling time while working for the campus magazine. This would later shape her to become one of the best writers that there has ever been. Her BA degree also created a quality foundation for her to venture into the short story writing career.
Jackson was expelled from the University of Rochester after her first year. She would spend most of her time hanging in the cafes with friends instead of studying (Shirley Jackson’s Biography). However, she has the opportunity to move to another institution where she completed her studies. She is also portrayed as suffering from depression that might have affected concentration in her studies. Jackson experienced psychic damage. She has an unstable state of mind that affected a wide range of her life-based approaches, where she used this as the foundation for writing the Lottery short story. As Heller states, Jackson’s supernatural elements contained in her work is used to explore the ‘psychic’ damage that women encounter in their lives. She based her work on the experiences that she had encountered and developed in her lifetime. Most people deemed her witch because they failed to understand the central message in the book. According to Ingram (1), Shirley Jackson was a witch. Her witchcraft stories contained in her words made her acquire this image from the readers. Besides, she struggled to have her content published, whereby she encountered numerous rejections. The lack of understanding of her contents’ key message could have been one reason behind the rejection to publish her informative pieces.
Jackson’s “Lottery” short story relies on a hidden message narrative to relay its message to the audience. One of her primary messages is that individuals have a high level of vulnerability in the social setting. Membership is a distinct group that provides individuals with safety and security against persecution by the majority group members. The novel speaks about breaking family bonds. Tessie, one of the novel’s characters, wins a lottery that affects her relationship with other families. She is ready and willing to have a redo of the process to save her family against family bond breakdown. She also urges her daughter to take part in the lottery without considering her needs and concerns. The decision to disconnect herself from the majority acts as her disadvantage despite winning the lottery. She is later killed through stoning. Another case is that of Dunbar and Watson, who fail to conform to the available traditions. They face disconnection from the rest of the community. These scenarios indicate that people have a high vulnerability level if they do not connect themselves to the majority group. For example, if the societal traditions and values uphold patriarchy, women are expected to ensure that their actions and behaviors conform to the expectations. In the modern setting, feminism has continued to pose a significant challenge towards adhering to such beliefs and practices. Women who value and uphold the feminist movement might find themselves being vulnerable in their communities. As Cohen (50) reveal, since the Second World War, women have been encouraged to stay home, tend their husbands, and take care of the children. This parabola effect has continued to affect the welfare of women across various societies. Thus, one of Jackson’s central message in her Lottery novel highlights the adverse status of people who fail to abide by the existing systems and practices as often withheld by the majority groups. Also, she desires to educate individuals to question traditions.
Traditions provide community members with a sense of belonging. However, some of them are harmful and detrimental as they look down upon some groups. The Lottery novel accommodates the desire to ensure people learn to question systems and structures that they feel have no significant value for them and others. Anyone who wins the lottery faces death. Mrs. Watson and Dunbar decide to break a tradition because it affects their status at the community level. However, the Old Man Warner states that “nothing but trouble” to indicate that people who abandoned this practice would face adverse outcomes (Jackson 4). The lottery is one of the highly regarded practices in the community, and the refusal of these women to take part attracts rejection from other members. Abandonment of the lottery is deemed as a move that is likely to create negative consequences. The group thought approach makes it hard for members to develop autonomy and freedom. Thus, Jackson desires to educate the audience that conformance to traditions should be based on the acquired benefits and long-term impacts. Also, everyone should assess if a practice is beneficial for them and others. If not, it is essential to do away with it to reduce possible risks and threats that might affect the community. Therefore, the novel encompasses a vital message linked to questioning traditions. Lastly, another major theme is the link between civilization and violence.
Detrimental practices call for individual and collective actions to end the status quo. Jackson creates an image of a peaceful and civilized society to the readers at the start of the reading. However, in the midst, she exposes the audience to violent deeds focused on enabling individuals to obtain freedom. In this case, the lottery is a practice that is highly valued in the community. The locals fail to stand as individuals to oppose the lottery, which does more harm than good. It has successfully separated people as opposed to uniting them. Her idea behind the violence is that it can occur anytime and be undertaken by any member to terminate the status quo. She uses stoning acts to portray that violence might be an effective tool of achieving civilization, especially when other strategies fail to provide the desired outcomes. She also exposes the audience to a tale of ritual human sacrifice. According to Ingram (3) notes, “The Lottery” is a tale of a ritual human sacrifice that sustains the way of life. The stoning ritual is considered a practice that is linked to sacrificial fertility. However, Jackson aims to enable the audience to understand the implications of their traditions and their roles in ending harmful practices. The inherent need is to ensure that villagers question the move to collectively kill someone yearly.
The Lottery novel is one of the readings that capture the reader’s attention due to its hidden message perspective. Most people term it as controversial because they fail to understand its rationale and the author’s deeper meaning. It addresses one of the most critical elements in the social setting that can positively or negatively change lives. Traditions are useful, but if they disregard human life and dignity, they attract abandonment. It urges members to be more collective as opposed to individualistic. There is a dire need for individuals to be concerned about their needs and well-being and other people around them.
Cohen, Gustavo Vargas. “Shirley Jackson’s Literary Discourse and the Allegation of Feminism as Socio-Cultural Subversion in Mid-Twentieth Century America O discurso literário de Shirley Jackson ea alegação do feminismo como subversão cultural na América de meados do século XX.” Revista e-scrita: Revista do Curso de Letras da UNIABEU 2.6 (2011): 48-61.
Heller, Zoë. “The Haunted Mind of Shirley Jackson.” The New Yorker, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/17/the-haunted-mind-of-shirley-jackson
Ingram, Shelley. “Revelry: Shirley Jackson and Stanley Edgar Hyman” (2019): 1-13.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery (1948).” The Treasury of American Short Stories (1949): 1-8.
“Shirley Jackson.” Biography, 2020, https://www.biography.com/writer/shirley-jackson#:~:text=Shirley%20Jackson%20was%20born%20on,moved%20to%20New%20York%20City