Shirley Jackson (1919-65)
Photo Credit: Lawrence J. Hyman
"The number of people who expected Mrs. Hutchinson to win a Bendix washer
would amaze you." -- Shirley Jackson re: "The Lottery"
Questions for Group Discussion and Journal
What is the lottery for? (Hint: "Lottery in June, corn be heavy
soon," says Old Man Warner.) What are the community's attitudes
Can you try to divide the story into three parts: the beginning, the
middle and the end? How does each part function? Does the
ending of the story surprise you a lot? Does the story provide clues
(or foreshadowing) for the ending?
What do you know about the characters? Is there any significance
in the choice of their names?
From what point-of-view does the narrator tell the story?
When, or in which year, does the story take place? Can we tell whether
it is in the present, or in the past? Is the village a real one?
What is the point of using an ancient rite as the subject matter of a modern
References & Further Questions:
acts and little murders"; An
Article by JONATHAN LETHEM about how a new collection of unpublished
stories betrays the two faces of Shirley Jackson. "Likely
the most controversial piece of fiction ever published in the New Yorker,
resulting in hundreds of canceled subscriptions, later adapted for television,
radio and ballet, ["The Lottery] now resides in the popular imagination
as an archetype" (p. 1; more on p.
2). What kind of "archetype" does the story create?
LETHEM claims that the village is a real one (North Bennington, a tiny
village less than a mile from the otherwise isolated Bennington campus
" the two faces" of Shirley Jackson":
"One was a turgid, fearful ugly-duckling, permanently
cowed by the severity of her upbringing by a suburban mother obsessed
with appearances. This half of Jackson was a character she brought
brilliantly to life in her stories and novels from the beginning: the shy
girl, whose identity slips all too easily from its foundations. The other
half of Jackson was the expulsive iconoclast, brought out of her
shell by marriage to Hyman--himself a garrulous egoist very much in the
tradition of Jewish '50's New York intellectuals —and by the visceral
shock of mothering a quartet of noisy, demanding babies. This
second Shirley Jackson dedicated herself to rejecting her mother's
sense of propriety, drank and smoked and fed to buttery excess--directly
toblame for her and her husband's early deaths--dabbled in magic
and voodoo, and interfered loudly when she thought the provincial Vermont
schools were doing an injustice to her talented children. This was
the Shirley Jackson that the town feared, resented and, depending
on whose version you believe, occasionally persecuted. ..."(p. 1;
more on p.
Do you know any other stories about scapegoat? In Taiwanese society?
Politics? In what ways is brutal violence committed by our society
to an individual?