Literary Essay The Lottery

Shirley Jackson bewildered the world when her short story “The Lottery” was published in The New Yorker magazine. The piece got a great deal of negative reaction for its shocking and gruesome story. Readers didn’t know what or why Shirley Jackson wrote this piece. She said she wanted to show the story with a “graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.” She wrote a piece about a town that continues the tradition of killing one person each year for no reason other than tradition. The theme is to show how easily a village of friends and family can follow ways of others, even if it is cruel and unusual. In this short story, she displays the theme with the use of irony of setting, situational irony, and verbal irony. The detailed description in the short story helps to build up an unexpected ending. When the story begins to introduce the setting of the book it reads, “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full summer day….”

The way the author writes it makes the readers feel like the story is going to take place in a happy environment and something good is going to happen. That may seem the case but as the reader continues to read, the story is actually talking about winning a death. This irony of setting illustrates the happy environment that they seem to live in, but that is not the case once the “winner” of the lottery is stoned to death. Readers may think Mrs. Hutchinson will not get chosen due to her positive attitude, but the story shows that is not the case at all. Mrs. Hutchinson acts like the drawing is not a big deal when she shows up late saying, “Clean forgot what day it was,” and “Wouldn’t have me leave m’dishes in the sink, now would you, Joe?.” She acts as if she wants to hurry up the process and get back to doing what she was doing. Mrs. Hutchinson has this attitude that she has nothing to worry about, yet it is her who ends up “winning” the lottery.

The situational irony shows that readers may think that the lottery is no big deal, but in fact it leads to a pointless death. The title of the short story is very misleading at first. The title “The Lottery” would make anyone assume the story is going to be about winning some money or some big prize. In the short story, Shirley Jackson wrote, “The lottery was conducted—as were the square dances, the teenage club, the Halloween program….” She makes the readers sense that the lottery is a normal thing and something good will come from it. That is the exact opposite of what the author is portraying. To win the lottery in the stories “village,” is to get beaten to death with stones by all the people in the community.

The verbal irony is when the author shows that winning the lottery is winning a death by your friends and family, compared to the readers who speculate that the lottery will be something good. Shirley Jackson shows the readers how easily friends and family turn on one another because of tradition. She states the irony of setting by stimulating a good, happy environment, but it turns out to be a dramatic day. With the verbal irony, no one actually wins something; someone ends up losing their life instead. In situational irony, the author shows how someone can blame others for their own mistakes. All of her different types of irony end up making “The Lottery” a very dramatic short story.

Works Cited
“Shirley Jackson.” Shirley Jackson and “The Lottery” N.p., n.d. Web. 04 June 2014.

Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements for “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “The Lottery” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot of “The Lottery” or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Click Here for a Detailed Plot Summary of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: A Delightful Village Conducting Civic Activities : Contrast in “The Lottery"

One of the most devastating and skillful aspects of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery" is that it consistently topples reader expectations about what should happen next or even at all. At first glance, the reader is given a story title that invokes, quite naturally, a sense of hope—the expectation that someone is going to win something. The first few paragraphs further confirm the sense of hope; it is a beautiful summer day, the grass is green, the flowers are blooming, kids out of school are playing…but then we start to see that something is amiss in this land of perfection, plenty, and hope. We are then told by the narrator of “The Lottery" that the official of the lottery is doing a “civic" duty, which we come to find out is aiding in the selection of someone to be stoned by his or her peers, perhaps even to death. Throughout the short story, contrast is everywhere, even from the names of Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves. For this essay on “The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, choose a few instances that provide contrast of reader expectations versus the grim reality and analyze them carefully.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: “Lottery in June, Corn Be Heavy Soon"

The ritual and traditions of the lottery in Shirley Jackson’s story seem to be just as old as the town itself, especially since most of the residents don’t recall any of the old rituals, even the Old Man Warner, who is “celebrating" his 77th lottery. This means that they are archaic in some ways and rooted in traditions of superstitions that seem to involve crops and human sacrifice. During the Salem Witch Trials in early America, one of the most common complaints about presumed “witches" was that they were responsible for bad harvests, thus in many ways “The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson can be seen as a metaphor for the trials in colonial New England.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Tradition and Ritual in “The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

There is a great degree of tension about the rituals that surround the Lottery in Shirley Jackson’s short story. On the one hand, there is great enough reverence for this ages-old tradition to continue on as it has for years even though there were some murmurs of dissent among the crowd as some recognized that other communities had done away with their lotteries. Still, almost out of fear or superstition or both, the lottery continues to exist but most of the ceremony behind the ritual has been lost. What emerges is a little shoddy, there is no formal chant and the box itself doesn’t even have a place of honor, instead it is just scooted around the village. So much has been lost about the initial ritual that the oldest man in the village gets upset that things are not like they used to be. In short, the lottery is more of a tradition rather than a ritual at the point we witness in the story but out of respect and fear for tradition, the townsfolk are more than willing to commit an act of mass violence, simply for the sake of a tradition. There is talk of right or wrong, just tradition and standard. Discuss what this may mean and how it acts as a metaphor for other outdated or outmoded cultural practices.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The True Horror of “The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

Although there is certainly suspense in “The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, it is mostly based on the fact that the reader doesn’t know, at least the first time around, what is in store for the “winner" of the lottery. On a second and third reading, however, it becomes clear that this story is full of horrific possibilities and it is these possibilities that make the tale more frightening after the first reading. For instance, the young boy Davy—too young to even hold his slip of paper properly—could have been the one selected instead of his mother. Or the fact that the children take part in ritual violence against their own friends and family. Or even the fact that there is no emotional goodbye to the woman being stoned; it just, well, is what it is. For this essay on “The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, reflect on the subtle horrors that add up only after the reader has made a second pass through the text. Do a close reading of a few instances such as these that magnify the possibility for a much darker ending.

Click Here for a Detailed Plot Summary of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

Or go here for a literary analysis of “The Lottery”


This list of important quotations from “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “The Lottery” above, these quotes alone with page numbers can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way.

‘The lottery was conducted—as were the square dances, the teenage club, the Halloween program—by Mr. Summers, who had time and energy to devote to civic activities" (212).

“Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations" (212).

“The rest of the year the box was put away, sometimes one place, sometimes another; it had spent one year in Mr. Graves’ barn and another year underfoot in the post office, and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there" (213).

“There had been, also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use in addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this had also changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official to speak to each person approaching" (213).

“Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know they’ll be wanting to live in caves, nobody work anymore, love that way for a while. Used to be a saying ‘lottery in June, corn be heavy soon’. First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery" (215).

“Be a good sport, Tessie…we all took the same chance" (216).

“Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use the stones" (216).

Source: Jackson, Shirley : The Lottery and Adventures of the Demon Lover. Avon Press, 1949.
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