By EFMingo on Jun 15, 2022 at 2:24 PM
  1. EFMingo

    EFMingo A Modern Dinosaur Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Use of Character to Advance Theme in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

    Discussion in 'Articles' started by EFMingo, Jun 15, 2022.

    ~ 5 minute read


    Feel free to interact below! I would love to hear someone else’s interpretation of Jackson’s work. Link, as always, to a free read of the story.

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1948/06/26/the-lottery


    Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is an enormously de-centering narrative commenting on the classic notions of keeping to tradition, and the inherent flaw of blind faith. The driving influence for her message being so effective is how she designed the people of the village as characters, and their flat, even prideful, responses to a violent tradition because it’s simply always been.

    Old Man Warner survived seventy-seven years of the lottery, and it’s all he’s ever known, year after year. When Mr. Adams talks to him about giving up the lottery, Warner responds with “Listening to young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to live in caves, nobody work anymore.” Through Warner’s dialogue, Jackson delivers Warner’s thoughts, which have invaded the minds of most the townsfolk. He’s proud of his background and how he was raised, and not willing to listen to new sensibilities. The younger generation with new ideas is a cancer to him, trying to break the traditions he was raised upon. Warner further knocks down the notion of ending the lottery by telling him and the reader that “There’s always been a lottery” and that the young generation is “a pack of fools.” Warner speaks for the community as the voice of wisdom in that the lottery is a good thing that needs to be accomplished for the greater good. Jackson uses his character as a base of understanding for the community on what’s sensible. As a reader from an outside perspective though, we are able to view the foolishness of his character’s blind faith.

    This sense of “civic duty” towards the tradition is also emanated quite strongly through Mr. Summers, as he carries out the tasks of the lottery, though no one seems to be pleased by it in anyway except possibly the children who don’t know any better. Even facing the terror in Tess Hutchinson’s eyes as she argues the fairness of the lottery in Bill’s losing draw, he remains coldly ignorant and dutiful to completing the task. Jackson creates a sense of militaristic repetition in him, having him focused on completing the task every year, though the business lacks any real logical standing. It was simply as he has been doing until he is told not to, but Jackson’s voice of “reason,” Old Man Warner, objects to throwing out the lottery vehemently. He performs his duty with a deadened nerve to the families he’s breaking apart. This character in Jackson’s story is representative of leadership following a code of laws or ethics which have been handed down to them to protect, yet are blind to the purpose and ignorant to the negative effects in play. The message is carried through his actions and demeanor.

    The rest of the town is much like a congregation of followers, not particularly knowing why they’re following, or even what exactly, but they do so out of a sense of responsibility to keeping to tradition. Jackson uses these brief character interjections to show the reader their reserved questioning of the practices, but also how they trudge on as sheep to the feeding bell of tradition. Jackson has the characters frequently talking to each other as if they just made it, or were afraid another wasn’t coming, much like would happen in a church congregation if the regular members didn’t show for a religious holiday. The author designs their responses to show they know they need to be there or the community may shun them for not keeping to the annual lottery. Though their presence may not be mandatory, it is certainly expected.

    Jackson has these people fall into line and greet each other with a false sense of cheer, having them pretend to want to be there. Jackson also keenly orchestrates their demeanor after the victim is selected. The village acts as if their purging a loose end, or sacrificing a part of them for a better year. Bill tears the paper out of her hand to reveal the spot to the crowd without a second thought, not even any amount of comfort for his wife. The children are pleased it isn’t them. The cold atmosphere of the characters Jackson designed send the message and let it linger with the reader. They are like real people, going about their yearly business without a second thought. Jackson uses all of her characters, and their uniformity based on traditions of long-since past, to associate reality with the readers, and show them the results over time of blind faith. The characters develop the plot and themes through their design and lead the reader to understanding the dark ending and its larger implications.
     
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Discussion in 'Articles' started by EFMingo, Jun 15, 2022.

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