Hidden Horrors in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery
Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" presents conflict on more than one level. The most important conflict in the story is between the subject matter and the way the story is told. From the beginning Jackson takes great pains to present her short story as a folksy piece of Americana. Slowly it dawns on us, the terrible outcome of what she describes.
From the first sentence of the story,
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.
We are given the feeling of being in an idyllic, rural world. She enhances this feeling with little vignettes that are almost cliched in their banality: the little boys guarding their pile of stones in the town square; the towns-people gathering and interacting with each other as if they were at a country fair; Mrs. Hutchinson arriving late because she hadn't finished the dishes; even the good-natured complaining of Old Man Warner. All of these scenes and vignettes are used effectively to put us at our ease and to distract us from the horror that is to come.
In depicting this home-spun American scene with its horrible underlying secret Shirley Jackson is commenting on the hidden horrors of our every day life. It is no coincidence that the victim of the stoning is a woman. Jackson uses this character, Tessie Hutchinson, to comment on the sacrificial role that women play in American society.
We first meet Tessie Hutchinson when she arrives late for the lottery. It is significant that she has just come from washing her dishes. This is one of the most basic jobs of housework. Wiping her hands on her apron and apologizing for being late by saying, "Wouldn't have me leave m'dishes in the sink, now, would you. Joe?," help to establish Tessie's status in this society. She is a housewife. She raises children and takes care of the home. Obviously it would be her job to prepare lunch for the family after the lottery, if fate did not have something else in store for her.
Tessie Hutchinson accepts her role in society, up to a point. When her family's name is called she prompts her husband to hurry up and draw. It is interesting that she is the one who urges her husband to hurry, and then later complains that he was rushed. Until the reality of the situation set in for her, when she realized that her husband had drawn the black dot, she was ready and willing to fulfill whatever role her social group set for her.
Suddenly, when she realizes the danger she faces, Tessie is aware of the inherent unfairness of the situation. She protests, finally, but by then it is too late. The rest of the community is glad that it is not them who has been chosen. They are also glad to have the normal ritual of their community followed.
Tessie is no longer a member of that community, though. This is shown in her insistence that her married daughter should...