The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

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First published in 1948 in the New Yorker, “The Lottery” is Shirley Jackson’s dark look at what happens when ordinary life is injected by the macabre. In many ways the story is a tale of Jackson’s troubled life. Jackson was a prolific writer at a time when women were not expected to be anything besides a mother and homemaker. And while “The Lottery” made Jackson a household name and earned a significant amount of money for her family, she was still expected to prioritize her household duties. In many ways, Jackson’s writing can be seen a reaction to the world she lived in, a staple of horror authors to this day.

One of the more striking details about the fallout of the short story is that the New Yorker audience was unsure whether the story was fact or fiction, thus essentially proving Jackson’s point that humanity was capable of such an event. There is a direct correlation between that aspect of the story and the found footage genre that dominated horror films in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Starting with The Blair Witch Project in 1999, found footage movies challenged audiences’ perception of what was real. Blair Witch, the first of its kind to make it to the mainstream, was a cultural phenomenon. One of the main factors for this, was that at time not everything was on the internet, and people were not sure if what they were watching was real or made up.

The ending of “The Lottery” is what gets remembered, and it's easy to make tie-ins to films with shocking endings like 1964’s The Planet of Apes or any of M. Night Shyamalan’s film catalog, like The Sixth Sense and The Village. However, that is too simplistic of a reading of Jackson’s work and what the ending means. In fact, a better connection to the ending can be made to the previously mentioned Psycho. Hitchcock’s decision to kill off the film’s star Janet Leigh just 20 minutes into the film subverts the audience’s expectations in the same way Jackson’s ending does. In fact, Jackson herself said that one of the reasons readers were so upset with the story was because they expected [spoiler removed]. Her ability to play on the audience’s expectations would influence further films in the decades to come.

source: Galea, Matthew. "How Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery' Influenced Movies From 'Psycho' to 'Get Out'." Collider, 21 May 2022. https://collider.com/shirley-jackson-the-lottery-influenced-movies-psycho-get-out/

The Lottery appeared three weeks after Jackson’s agent had submitted it, and there was instant controversy: Hundreds of readers cancelled their subscriptions and wrote letters expressing their rage and confusion about the story. In one such letter, Miriam Friend, a librarian-turned-housewife, wrote “I frankly confess to being completely baffled by Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. Will you please send us a brief explanation before my husband and I scratch right through our scalps trying to fathom it?” Others called the story “outrageous,” “gruesome,” and “utterly pointless.” “I will never buy The New Yorker again,” one reader from Massachusetts wrote. “I resent being tricked into reading perverted stories like The Lottery.” There were phone calls, too, though The New Yorker didn’t keep a record of what was said, or how many calls came in.

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The Essay Question

Explain how the interactions between characters and events in paragraphs 6 and 7 contribute to the theme of following traditions long after it's forgotten why they were established. 

(I'm going to make some of my examples long and wordy so that I don't write what you want to write.)

We have a lot of traditions that we follow where either we never knew their origins or we just don't have the same beliefs that started the tradition.

For example, according to History.com, Halloween "originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts." This was back in the 800s. The same sources tells us that St. Patrick's Day honors the death of St. Patrick and dates all the way back to the 500s. Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ and, as I've mentioned before, the Quinceanera tradition, which goes back all the way to the Aztecs, marked the moment a young woman was ready for marriage. These are all traditions that some people follow but may not know or believe the original purpose behind them.

Start your essay with that. Remember, your lead is a broad statement that introduces the topic of the essay, so write one or two sentence hook/ lead that explains how there are a lot of traditions are practiced today that no longer follow their original intentions. This is only two sentences, so you won't go into as much detail as I did above.

For your transitionwrite a two to three sentence summary of the story. Again, you don't have to go into a lot of detail, just enough to connect the idea of the lead to the idea of your claim/ thesis.

Now for the thesis. Restate and answer the prompt: The behavior of the characters reenforces the theme that traditions are often followed long after it's forgotten why they were established.

You've now written the introduction! What next?

You need two examples (and two paragraphs) to support this claim. Think about how the people act. Do they seem to care about sacrificing to a god or is it just they're hurrying to get "over with" so they can "get back to work"? Do they remember and follow all the original aspects of the ceremony? Are the people eager and willing and honored to be chosen for the sacrifice? What about Mrs. Hutchinson completing forgetting what day it was?

I think we have four examples here to support the theme, and you only need two.

Body Paragraphs (two: one for each example you choose)

Let's start with, "For example, in the story..." Follow that with one of the examples, tell what's going on, quote the text, explain, elaborate, conclude.

Next paragraph, "Another example of how..... is when....." Evidence, explain, conclude.

(Body paragraphs are a lot like short answer responses.)

Conclusion

The conclusion is the reverse of the introduction. Remind the reader of your thesis, but word it differently, and work your way back to a broad statement about how it's true today that many traditions we follow today don't adhere to their origins.

I could type a sample conclusion here, but it might be too close to what you would write on your own, so here are some examples:

Introduction: There are thousands of people dying to buy a kidney and thousands of people dying to sell a kidney. It seems a match made in heaven. So why are we standing in the way? Governments should not ban the sale of human organs; they should regulate it. 

 

Conclusion: The government should support and regulate the sale of human organs. Those suffering from kidney disease would do anything for the chance at a new kidney, and there are other people so poor that the sale of a kidney is worth the profit. If legalized and regulated, the sale of human organs would save lives. 

(source: https://valenciacollege.edu/students/learning-support/west/communications/writing-center/documents/Sample-Introductions-and-Conclusions.pdf)

Introduction: More than 200 million cars are produced every year throughout the world. Despite the amount of producing and selling of cars in this modern age, only one out of every twenty Americans knows the mechanics of his or her vehicle. Every American should know the basics of car maintenance in order to fix problems immediately on the road, understand when mechanics are cheating customers, and pass these skills along to younger generations.

Conclusion: The ignorance of basic auto mechanics on America's part is indeed appalling. However, having grown tired and frustrated by the excessive amount of money they have had to spend on shops and auto mechanics, Americans have come to realize that car maintenance is much more essential than they had thought. If this trend continues in America, we can hopefully predict the coming of an age where dependence upon others for "car smarts" will finally become obsolete.

(source: https://assets.northpark.edu/wp-content/uploads/20200124120429/Introductions-and-Conclusions-Handout2.pdf)

Another example