A classic American
short story by Shirley Jackson
. Originally published sometime in the 1940s. Widely anthologized; it’s a good bet you read it back in high school
and forgot all about it until you happened upon this node and read two key phrases: lottery
and stoning to death
Contrary to other opinions, I don’t find this story sci-fish in the slightest. There’s nothing regarding technology. Indeed, the lottery device is something you might use to pick who’s going on the next beer run: it’s a bunch of folded papers tossed in an old splintered black box. There’s also little discussion of the past or present; Jackson's setting is as timeless as possible. If you’re looking for a genre parallel, try The Twilight Zone. In fact, didn’t it become a Twilight Zone episode? (msgs on this one welcome!)
The story itself is masterfully written. Jackson opens with a description of a perfect day:
The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; flowers blooming profusely and the grass was richly green.
Nice and serene - Jackson's setting you up. Also note the lack of year in the date.
Then a group of townspeople gather in a public square for their annual lottery, which is described more as a cultural ritual than a state mandate. Jackson shows you just how much the people accept the lottery by relating how the more formal aspects of it have been abandoned. Acts such as wood chips instead of pieces of paper, an official swearing in of the lottery official, and a group recital beforehand, as well as ritual salute – all these have lapsed over the years as unnecessary. She’s insinuating that at one time the lottery was enforced through an almost religious ritualization, but those formalisms are no longer necessary because it's become so ingrained within their society. As the village elder, Old Man Warner says, "There’s always been a lottery." No one remembers a time before it.
The end, as you know, is that the "winner" gets stoned to death by the village. This includes their own family. Why? The story gives no real reason beyond the hint of the lottery officials' names – Mr. Summer and Mr. Grave, Grave presiding while Summer MCs.
However, "the point" might be phrased like this:
- The stability of the whole depends on the murder of the few.
- Behind every perfect society is an unwanted element.
- All appearance of good is tainted with acts of evil.
Choose one and write a paper.
*Also see Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.