Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, May 24, 2010

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson (1948, 8 pages-originally published in The New Yorker)

Recently I have been studying a number of different "Best Short Stories" lists.    Most lists overlap a lot with your standard canon writers like Poe, Gogol,  Chekhov, Woolf, Mansfield, Joyce etc.    When I see a new to me story on a list I do not take it seriously until I see it on several lists.    One new to me writer that I have seen on numerous lists is Shirley Jackson for her story "The Lottery".   

After a bit of research I found Jackson (1916 to 1965-San Francisco, California) was a very influential writer of Gothic horror  style stories.    Her work is greatly admired by Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.   She was married to a well known literary critic, Stanley Hyman.   She wrote six novels with titles like Hangsaman and The House on Haunted Hill.    According to several on line biographies, she and her husband had a personal library of over 100,000 volumes.    Among lovers of Gothic Horror fiction she is highly regarded.    It seems for sure "The Lottery" is her most famous work.

"The Lottery" is set in a small village environment where everyone knows everyone.   As the story open you got a sense of foreboding and I admit I visualized the residents of the village walking around with glassy eyes and pitchforks in their hands.   Her style is simple and straightforward.   It is a story anyone can enjoy and after reading think "Ok that was cute and quirky and clever and did not strain my mind a whole lot".

Here are the opening lines which give a clear picture of her style:
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. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 2th. but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.

We learn that the lottery is a ritual that has been around a long time.   It has deep cultural meaning to the older residents who decry that the young do not really correctly observe the forms of the ritual.   We do not learn what the lottery is for until the very end of the story.   It is fully in the tradition of a story that depends on a surprise ending to work.    I will let you discover the ending for yourself but maybe you will see it coming.

I enjoyed reading this story.  It just took a few minutes.  It is not a literary classic just a well written enjoyable story that makes us think a bit.   It is not near the level of  Katherine Mansfield, Kate Chopin, or Flannery O'Conner.   The writing style is what I would call bland.   I think it maybe listed on so many lists as a classic short story as I think it could easily be taught in a class aimed at students 12 and above.   I would say it is worth reading as a fun diversion.    You can read it on line here.

Please leave in a comment any short stories you can endorse -

Mel u


Rebecca Reid said...

I read this in high school. It was quite disturbing. Stories I can endorse:

The Horla by Maupassant (that might not be the best maupassant....I'll have to think on that for a while.)
The Story of an Hour by Chopin (have you read it yet?)
The Student by Anton Chekhov

I'm still working on finding more great short stories.

Marieke said...

As a HUGE lifelong fan of Shirley Jackson, I always thought that I liked 'The Lottery' the least of her stories I read. If you can get your hands on any of her story collections, you'll see that she has much more depth and range than this story indicates.

I would describe her work generally as psychologically astute, with elements of horror or the uncanny, with a focus on the lives of women.

I'm so glad you're exploring short stories because your reviews have introduced to me to some new authors I'd like to try! Also brings back good memories of Mansfield and others... keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

I love that you do short stories. I do quite a few too and recently did a Shirley Jackson one too - but not this one which as you say is her famous. The short stories I do though are less the result of planned reading but of various serendipities!