I want to talk today a little bit about The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. Shirley Jackson is one of our great literary figures in terms of dark and horror fiction, and her short story – The Lottery – rocked the literary world when it first released in 1948. The Lottery first appeared in The New Yorker, and its surprise ending shocked so many readers that they unsubscribed from The New Yorker out of fear. But what we can take away from this is how intense great writing can be, and how important the short story is because of its ability to pack a punch in a matter of pages. Whether the audience’s reaction is positive or negative does not matter as long as the audience is moved in some way.
But I will save my discussion on the importance of short stories for another day. The purpose of today’s writing discussion is, indeed, the plot of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, and how it has influenced modern literature.
For those who have not read this short story, I will summarize it for you. But I do encourage you to read the 8-page short story above!
Beware SPOILERS ARE AHEAD.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is about a small town that holds a lottery every year. During the lottery, the townspeople all come together and draw a paper from a box. In the end, the person with a piece of paper that has a black dot on it is “the chosen one”. But in this story, being the chosen one is a death sentence. Immediately after the lottery ends, the chosen one is stoned to death by the townspeople.
Now, there is not a lot of explanation in the short story about why the town uses this lottery method, other than the fact that it has been done for generations in the surrounding towns and that it is a tradition.
But what about this story caused such a stir? Well, think about the time period when this story was published America was on the brink of the 1950s and World War 2 had just ended three years prior. The country was trying to get back to a sense of normal with a focus on a just society and a stable family oriented community. Jackson rocked the boat by writing this story that portrayed a society trying to stick to tradition and keep a stable community, but she portrayed death as a constant in this society in such a gruesome manner. The story was about how a community painstakingly tried to stick with tradition and their rules and regulations, despite the repercussions. This shocked America at the time because it was during this period that America was trying hard to stick to their community values and traditions despite the effect that the war had on the country. This scared The New Yorker’s readers because The Lottery proposed that sticking with tradition and certain rules and regulations were not beneficial for society when the country was trying to return to values that had been a part of society pre-war. The moral of this thesis is that the effect of writing depends very much on the current state of the society when the story is published.
While Jackson’s The Lottery did question society at the time, it also opened up the concept of “the chosen one” in literature. Since The Lottery, this concept has been used in numerous areas of literature since to question society as it changes. This concept has also been used to examine where our society might go in the future.
Some of the best examples of this derivation from The Lottery are found in The Giver by Louis Lowry and The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Both of these works examine alternate societies as well as our future society, and they focus on a concept similar to The Lottery.
In The Giver, individuals are chosen to perform specific roles in the community when they come of age, and they are placed into families instead of choosing for themselves. This book focuses on a society where individuals generally do not have a lot of control over their lives and the government chooses for them. It also focuses on the character of the Giver who holds the truths of the old world and the beauty and pain that used to exist. The Lottery influenced The Giver by having Lowry question society and the control that the government has over the population. It also brought to light another “chosen one” whose fate was to bear the weight of the tradition and history of the town.
In The Hunger Games Trilogy, the concept of “the chosen one” is used again, but it is more closely related to The Lottery. In the society that is the setting for The Hunger Games Trilogy, individuals are chosen in 12 different districts by drawing names. These 12 are then forced to take part in The Hunger Games and fight to the death. The last one alive ends up being the victor, but they are forced to live with the memories and nightmares of what happened in The Hunger Games, as well as what they did during the games to survive. Being chosen in this context is, again, much like in The Lottery, because it is essentially a death sentence. But Collins took the lottery concept further by having society tell the population that in order to survive, they need to kill one another. Instead of targeting the population directly, such as in The Giver, the society in The Hunger Games taught the population that in order to survive they need to be out for themselves. This is precisely why The Hunger Games Trilogy has had such a lasting effect on our current society. Today, people are taught that they need to work hard to be successful, no matter who they step on. The Hunger Games Trilogy reflected this but in a more gruesome matter. Just like how The Lottery, reflected how in the late 1940s society was trying to stick with a tradition that had lasted pre-war but was lethal post-war: focusing on the “perfect” family lifestyle and fighting for the country when so many had been lost in the violence of war.
“The chosen one” concept is not something that is new or entirely original, but it is one of the most important concepts in literature. This concept has been used to portray how our society runs as well as where it is going. It has helped us to see society in a different way and to question the rules and regulations that we live by.
My challenge for you is to write a story using “the chosen one” concept to portray how you feel about society, or where it is going. We are living in a very heated time, and sometimes it is best to portray how we feel through writing and literature. Feel free to leave a comment sharing your story or thoughts!
I look forward to seeing what you come up with! Please let me know how you feel about “the chosen concept” in the comments below.
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