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Jackson's Lottery Essay

1250 words - 5 pages

A master of modern gothic fiction, Shirley Jackson wrote of the essentially evil nature of human beings. Her most famous story, "The Lottery," tells of a ritual in a typical New England town in which local residents choose one among their number to be sacrificed. Other Jackson stories turn on ironic twists and black humor. Her novels include The Sundial, in which a group of people who believe the end of the world is near takes refuge in a large estate; The Haunting of Hill House, the story of a research project at a supposedly haunted manor house; and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the tale of two sisters ostracized by their community for allegedly murdering the rest of their family. Jackson's dark fiction, wrote Martha Ragland in theDictionary of Literary Biography, "earned her a reputation as a 'literary sorceress,' a writer with a peculiar talent for the bizarre, a creator of psychological thrillers, an adroit master of effect and suspense." "The Lottery," Jackson's most famous short story, was first published in the New Yorker on June 26, 1948. Reader reaction was intense, and the publishers announced that the story had prompted more mail than anything published in the magazine up to that time: 450 letters from twenty-five states, two territories, and six foreign countries, most expressing outrage at the allegory of man's darker nature. In this story Jackson stated a theme which, according to Ragland, carries through much of the author's fiction: "Humankind is more evil than good. The mass of men is profoundly misguided, seemingly incapable of enlightenment. Lacking either the capacity to reason or the strength to act upon moral convictions, their lives are dictated by habit and convention. They often behave with callous disregard of those around them." Speaking of the reaction provoked by "The Lottery," Jackson wrote in The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction: "One of the most terrifying aspects of publishing stories and books is the realization that they are going to be read, and read by strangers. I had never fully realized this before. . . . It had simply never occurred to me that these millions and millions of people . . . would sit down and write me letters I was downright scared to open. . . . Even my mother scolded me." "The Lottery" firmly established Jackson as a master of the gothic horror tale. But according to her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, the story also led many critics to misunderstand both the author and her work. He wrote: "Her fierce visions of dissociations and madness, of alienation and withdrawal, of cruelty and terror, have been taken to be personal, even neurotic fantasies. Quite the reverse: They are a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and The Bomb. She was always proud that the Union of South Africa banned 'The Lottery,' and she felt that they, at least, understood the story." Jackson's novel The Sundial concerns...

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