The Lottery: Wikis


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"The Lottery" is a classic short story by Shirley Jackson, first published in the June 26, 1948 issue of The New Yorker.[1]

The magazine and Jackson herself were surprised by the highly negative reader response. Many readers cancelled their subscriptions, and hate mail continued to arrive throughout the summer.[2] The story was banned in the Union of South Africa.[3] Since then, it has been accepted as a classic American short story, subject to many critical interpretations and media adaptations, and it has been taught in schools for decades.[4]



The story contrasts commonplace details of contemporary small town American life with an annual ritual known as "the lottery". In a small village of about 300 people, the locals are in a strange and nervous mood on 27 June. Children gather up stones as the adult townsfolk assemble for their annual event, that in the local tradition has been practiced to ensure a good harvest. In the first round of the lottery, the head of each family draws a small slip of paper; Bill Hutchinson gets the slip with the black spot, meaning that his family has been chosen. In the next round, each Hutchinson family member draws a slip, and Bill's wife Tessie — who had arrived late — gets the marked slip. In keeping with tradition, which has been abandoned in other neighboring communities, Tessie is then stoned to death by everyone present as a sacrifice, all the while protesting about the fairness of the lottery.


Many readers demanded an explanation of the situation described in the story, and a month after the initial publication, Shirley Jackson responded in the San Francisco Chronicle (July 22, 1948):

Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.

Jackson lived in North Bennington, Vermont, and her comment reveals that she had Bennington in mind when she wrote "The Lottery". In a 1960 lecture (printed in her 1968 collection, Come Along with Me), Jackson recalled the hate mail she received in 1948:

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, although I had of course in my imagination dwelt lovingly upon the thought of the millions and millions of people who were going to be uplifted and enriched and delighted by the stories I wrote. It had simply never occurred to me that these millions and millions of people might be so far from being uplifted that they would sit down and write me letters I was downright scared to open; of the three-hundred-odd letters that I received that summer I can count only thirteen that spoke kindly to me, and they were mostly from friends. Even my mother scolded me: "Dad and I did not care at all for your story in The New Yorker," she wrote sternly; "it does seem, dear, that this gloomy kind of story is what all you young people think about these days. Why don't you write something to cheer people up?"[2]

The New Yorker kept no records of the phone calls, but letters addressed to Jackson were forwarded to her. That summer she regularly took home 10 to 12 forwarded letters each day. She also received weekly packages from The New Yorker containing letters and questions addressed to the magazine or editor Harold Ross, plus carbons of the magazine's responses mailed to letter writers.

Curiously, there are three main themes which dominate the letters of that first summer—three themes which might be identified as bewilderment, speculation and plain old-fashioned abuse. In the years since then, during which the story has been anthologized, dramatized, televised, and even—in one completely mystifying transformation—made into a ballet, the tenor of letters I receive has changed. I am addressed more politely, as a rule, and the letters largely confine themselves to questions like what does this story mean? The general tone of the early letters, however, was a kind of wide-eyed, shocked innocence. People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.[2]

Critical interpretations


Helen E. Nebeker's essay, "'The Lottery': Symbolic Tour de Force" in American Literature (March, 1974) claims that every major name in the story has a special significance

By the end of first two paragraphs, Jackson has carefully indicated the season, time of ancient excess and sacrifice, and the stones, most ancient of sacrificial weapons. She has also hinted at larger meanings through name symbology. "Martin", Bobby’s surname, derives from a Middle English word signifying ape or monkey. This, juxtaposed with "Harry Jones" (in all its commonness) and "Dickie Delacroix" (of-the-Cross) urges us to an awareness of the Hairy Ape within us all, veneered by a Christianity as perverted as "Delacroix", vulgarized to "Dellacroy" by the villagers. Horribly, at the end of the story, it will be Mrs. Delacroix, warm and friendly in her natural state, who will select a stone "so large she had to pick it up with both hands" and will encourage her friends to follow suit... "Mr. Adams", at once progenitor and martyr in the Judeo-Christian myth of man, stands with "Mrs. Graves"—the ultimate refuge or escape of all mankind—in the forefront of the crowd.

Fritz Oehlshlaeger, in "The Stoning of Mistress Hutchinson Meaning of Context in 'The Lottery'" (Essays in Literature, 1988), wrote:

The name of Jackson's victim links her to Anne Hutchinson, whose Antinomian beliefs, found to be heretical by the Puritan hierarchy, resulted in her banishment from Massachusetts in 1638. While Tessie Hutchinson is no spiritual rebel, to be sure, Jackson's allusion to Anne Hutchinson reinforces her suggestions of a rebellion lurking within the women of her imaginary village. Since Tessie Hutchinson is the protagonist of "The Lottery", there is every indication that her name is indeed an allusion to Anne Hutchinson, the American religious dissenter. She was excommunicated despite an unfair trial, while Tessie questions the tradition and correctness of the lottery as well as her humble status as a wife. It might as well be this insubordination that leads to her selection by the lottery and stoning by the angry mob of villagers.

"Tessie" is a short form of the name Teresa which is thought to be derived from the Greek verb therizein ("to harvest").


In addition to numerous reprints in magazines, anthologies and textbooks, "The Lottery" has been adapted for radio, live television, a 1953 ballet, a 1969 short film, a TV movie, an opera and a one-act play. NBC's radio adaptation was broadcast March 14, 1951 as an episode of the anthology series, NBC Presents: Short Story. Ellen M. Violett wrote the first television adaptation, seen on Albert McCleery's Cameo Theatre (1950–1955). Currently, the Acting Company offers a one-act production, directed by Douglas Mercer and adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, which can be staged in school classrooms.[5]

A final storyline in the soap opera, Dark Shadows (ABC-TV 1966-71) was based on "The Lottery". Because of an ancestor's curse, in every generation of the Collins family, one member is chosen by lottery to spend a night in a haunted room, resulting in death or insanity. If the lottery is not held, all family members die. At the conclusion of the TV series, lovers Bramwell Collins (Jonathan Frid) and Catherine Collins (Lara Parker) spend the night in the room and break the curse.[6][7]

Larry Yust's short film, The Lottery (1969), produced as part of Encyclopædia Britannica's 'Short Story Showcase' series, was ranked by the Academic Film Archive "as one of the two bestselling educational films ever". It has an accompanying ten-minute commentary film, Discussion of "The Lottery" by USC English professor Dr. James Durbin. Featuring the film debut of Ed Begley, Jr., Yust's adaptation has an atmosphere of naturalism and small town authenticity with its shots of pick-up trucks and townspeople in Fellows, California.[8][9]

Anthony Spinner adapted the story into a feature-length TV movie, The Lottery, which premiered September 29, 1996, on NBC. As expanded by Spinner, the annual lottery is held for religious reasons, and the thriller storyline highlights a love story with the crazed townsfolk and the sadistic lottery as the backdrop. Director Daniel Sackheim filmed in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with a cast that included Keri Russell, Dan Cortese, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Corey, Salome Jens and M. Emmet Walsh. It was nominated for a 1997 Saturn Award for Best Single Genre Television Presentation.

Augustin Kennady directed an 11-minute short, The Lottery (2007), on location in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania for Aura Pictures Limited. Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick and his parents portray the Hutchinson family.[10]

References in other works

In The Simpsons episode "Dog of Death" (1992) the town is in the grip of lottery fever. TV anchorman Kent Brockman says that all copies of the "The Lottery" have been checked out of the Springfield library even though it "...has no clues on winning the lottery at all but is in fact a chilling tale of conformity gone mad." Upon hearing this a disappointed Homer throws his copy of the book into the fireplace.

In the music video "Man That You Fear", Marilyn Manson portrays a man who is condemned to die. He is 'chosen' by a blindfolded child who spins around pointing her finger. When she stops spinning, she removed the blindfold and sees the trailer home that she is pointing to — the home of the condemned. The video features all events of his last day on earth, leading up to his death by stoning in an isolated location of the desert.

In the South Park episode "Britney's New Look" (2008), Britney Spears is chosen by local villagers as the human sacrifice needed for a good corn harvest. Creators Stone and Parker indicate that the episode was based on placing Britney Spears in the "The Lottery". The episode even goes as far as having an elderly man, who resembles a character in the 1969 short film version of The Lottery, directly reference the story by describing the actual process used in the story "The Lottery".[11]

Listen to

See also


  1. ^ Shirley Jackson (26 June 1948). "Fiction: "The Lottery" (abstract of story)". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2008-05-22. 
  2. ^ a b c Jackson, Shirley. Come Along with Me, 1968.
  3. ^ Hyman, Stanley Edgar. "Introduction", Just an Ordinary Day. Bantam, 1995.
  4. ^ Buie, Jim. Teacher of Our Town: Lillian Secrest Buie, 2006.
  5. ^ The Acting Company
  6. ^
  7. ^ Dark Shadows Memories by Kathryn Leigh Scott ISBN 0-938817-60-4, 2001 Pomegranite Press Ltd.
  8. ^ IMDb, The Lottery.
  9. ^ Larry Yust's film, The Lottery
  10. ^ Berger, Peggy R. "The Lottery", Blue Valley Times, August 22, 2006.
  11. ^ DVD commentary


  • Oppenheimer, Judy (1988), Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson, New York: Putnam, ISBN 0399133569 .

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