The Lottery – Shirley Jackson

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Claire from Paperback Reader alerted me to the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. She described herself as ‘feeling traumatised’ after reading it, so I was immediately intrigued and decided to track down a copy on the internet. If you’d like to do the same, then you can read the story here.

The Lottery was initially published in the New Yorker in 1948 under much criticism, and having read the story I can see why people were distressed.

The story takes place in a small village, where everyone knows everyone else, all are friendly and seem to enjoy the festive atmosphere as they gather in the village square for the lottery. Shirley Jackson builds the tension masterfully, as the short story heads towards it’s shocking end.

I was very impressed with the writing, and am now even more keen to get my hands on We have Always Lived in a Castle. I was interested to see that Molly from My Cozy Book Nook compared The Lottery to The Hunger Games, now she mentions it, there are many similarities, and I think anyone who has read the Hunger Games recently would be interested in comparing the two. I wonder if Suzanne Collins has read Lottery?

I’m not normally a fan of short stories, but will keep an eye out for this book, so I can read the rest of the collection.

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Were you shocked by The Lottery?

Do you think The Hunger Games was based on this short story?


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33 Comments

  1. Teddy says:

    This looks really good. Thanks so much for bringing my attention to it. Now quit adding to my tbr. LOL!

  2. raidergirl3 says:

    Had you never read it before? I’m sure I read it several times in school, it packs quite a punch, especially the first time you read it. It is in most anthologies of English in Canada. Maybe not in UK?
    I would think Collins was influenced by this story, I can see the similarities.
    I’d like to read some of Jackson’s novels as well.

  3. They made a short film out of this in the ’70’s, which I watched in my American Lit class in high school. It’s on Youtube, in two parts, about twenty minutes long (I recently found it and watched it–gotta love youtube for that kind of distraction!)

  4. Molly says:

    WOW — you really did just finish this short story :)

    Isn’t it amazing! I distinctly remember watching the “video” in junior high (at a time when school related videos were terribly dull) and being totally riveted to my seat. I remember when it ended I kept saying to myself “that’s not right; it can’t be” — and to this day I still find myself not believing the final scene.

  5. CBJames says:

    Any chance I can convince you to add this post to Short Story Sunday? ;-)

    I have read her novel The Huanting of Hill House and found it pretty good. There is some genuinely scary stuff in it. I’ve not read We Have Always Lived in the Castle though.

    Her short stories are what she’s famous for. This one and another called An Ordinary Day with Peanuts. Both are in most middle school literature anthologies. That’s where I first read them and yes I was shocked, my entire class was.

    The Lottery is a fairly old myth though so I’m not sure I see a direct link between it and The Hunger Games. Have you seen The Wicker Man from the 1960’s? The original version still packs something of a punch even with a few over-the-top hippie dance scenes. It has the same sort of spring sacrifice plotline.

  6. Jenny says:

    I read this story when I was thirteen and found it really disturbing. We analyzed the crap out of it in my English class, which has made it a lot easier for me to reread. And given me an enormous appreciation of Shirley Jackson’s talent.

  7. Claire says:

    Jackie, I am so glad you were influenced by it and that you appreciated the masterful building of tension.

    Apparently in the UK we missed out on this at school! I’ve passed it on to a few teacher and school librarian friends.

  8. Nymeth says:

    I was more disturbed than shocked, I think. I knew it would all end in an awful revelation because someone had warned me, but that didn’t reduce the impact of the story. And yes, definitely read We have Always Lived in a Castle! Amazing book.

  9. Sandy says:

    OOOOH! I love to be disturbed and shocked! You know I’ve been sluggishly wanting to read more short stories…I will add this one to my list. It sounds like my kind of book!

  10. Jackie says:

    Teddy – You are adding to my TBR at quite a rate too! At least this one will only take you a few minutes to read LOL!!

    raidergirl3 – I have never even heard of it before. It isn’t something we read in school in the UK, although I can see why it would be good to study. I found all sorts of study guides to it on the internet.

    JT Oldfield – Thanks for letting me know. I’m not sure I want to watch a short film of it though. I’m disturbed enough already! Maybe in a few months time.

    Molly – Yes! I couldn’t believe it when I saw your post about it. It was one of the first things I happened to read after I’d finished!

  11. Jackie says:

    CB James – I’ve never heard of short story Sunday, but I’d be happy to add this to it, if I can find it! I’ll have a look later.

    I have heard of the Wicker Man, but never seen it. I’ll try to get a copy.

  12. Jackie says:

    Jenny – Shirley Jackson is one of the most talented authors I’ve discovered in a while. I will be making sure I read many more books by her in the future.

    Claire – Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention in the first place. I think we really miss out on this sort of thing in the UK. We have far too much Shakespeare, and not enough discussion creating things like this and The Giver by Lois Lowry.

  13. Jackie says:

    Nymeth – You’re right – disturbed is a much better word. I’m going to find out if my library has a copy of WHALIC, as I really want to read it now.

    Sandy – I hope you like it – it won’t take you long to read it!

  14. Nicole says:

    I found it to be very disturbing. I read it in high school and I think it was my first introduction to sacrificing the one for the many.

  15. JoAnn says:

    I think horrified best describes my reaction! I think I’ll write about it tomorrow for Short Story Monday. I left you an award on my blog today.

  16. Steph says:

    This sounds spooky and awesome! I have We have Always Lived in a Castle in my TBR stack, but haven’t gotten to it yet. I haven’t read Hunger Games, but I know the basic premise, so now I’ve hypothesized about what The Lottery must be about… We’ll see if I’m right!

  17. Dorte H says:

    I am not easily shocked, and I don´t quite remember how I reacted the first time I read The Lottery as a very young student. But I have certainly never forgotten it, and I have used it several times in my classes. Many students ARE shocked, and we always have a good discussion afterwards.

  18. Jackie says:

    Nicole – I would love the story to give a reason for the lottery. My main frustration with short stories is that I always want to know more.

    JoAnn – Thank you so much for the award. I look forward to reading your comments on this story.

    gautami tripathy – I’m not sure I like to be shocked, but it is sometimes good to read these things!

    Steph – I’m going to have to read WHALIAC soon. I look forward to comapring notes with you.

    Dorte – I wish we discussed this sort of thing in school. What reason do you generally come up with for there being a lottery in the first place?

  19. Dorte H says:

    What reason do you generally come up with for there being a lottery in the first place?

    None! I ask the questions. I teach at upper-secondary level so I´ll just ask them, what they think LOL

    I know that South Africa banned the story which made Shirley Jackson say that at least they had understood it. So prejudice and discrimination must be important themes in the story.

  20. Jackie says:

    Dorte – LOL!! OK – What reason do your students normally come up with?!! At least The Hunger Games comes up with a few reasons for their ‘lottery’ This one didn’t seem to have any reason for it. They all seem happy in their lives, with no reason to reduce the population.

    I’m not sure I agree about prejudice and discrimination being important themes, as it is a ‘lottery’ so it could easily be anyone. It doesn’t seem as though individuals are being targeted for being different. Perhaps I just don’t understand it!

  21. Claire says:

    Yes it seemed like indiscriminate, nonsensical, ritualistic violence to me.

  22. CBJames says:

    Dorte H asks an interesting question. I would argue that the lottery is a tradition. Like many traditions it has no real reason, or whatever reason it once had has been forgotten over the years. It’s done that way, because it’s always been done that way.

    I sure have spent a lot of time today thinking about this story. I should get a copy and re-read it.

  23. Dorte H says:

    I know it can be difficult to see it without Jackson´s own comment, but what she meant was (probably) that discrimination IS a lottery. In my part of the world discrimination has usually been white people discriminating against coloured people (that is our tradition, it has no real reason, it is just done that way etc). In other areas of the world coloured people discriminate against white people. So as you say, Jackie, it could so easily be anyone – it is never fair, and the victim has not done anything to deserve it.

    I hope this comment made it a bit clearer what I meant, and why the South African government of the 1950s particularly didn´t like it.

  24. Rebecca Reid says:

    Yes, I found it very disturbing! I read it in school. What is with that lovely cover? It should be a bit freakier looking.

  25. Jackie says:

    Claire – Ritualistic violence is a great way to describe it. Terrible is another!

    CB James – Tradition is a strange thing isn’t it? I have no idea why I do a lot of things!

    If you’d like to re-read it then just follow the link in the email.

    Dorte – Thank you for the explanation. I think I understand what you are getting at now.

    Rebecca – The cover is for ‘The Lottery and other stories’ so I guess it is a reflection of the rest of the stories more than this one, but I can also see how it fits with ‘The Lottery’

  26. Heidi says:

    Shirley Jackson is an amazing writer. Finidng time to read her full length books We Have Always Lived in the Castle and the Haunting of Hill House is worth it. Maybe not back to back though! Although yes her books and short stories are often disturbing some of my favorite of her short stories are about her just being a Mom. She has a wicked sense of humor and describes her children’s antics so wonderfully. I recently finished Come Along With Me a collection of her short stories published after her death. The story of her daughter’s sleepover is very funny in this collection. In this book at the back are essays for anyone interested – one about the reaction received from the Lottery when it was published in the New Yorker. She received so much hate mail as did the magazine– people cancelled their suscriptions in record numbers! People actually stopped speaking to her in her home town as well.

  27. Jackie says:

    Heidi – Thank you for such a helpful comment. I will keep an eye out for all her books, she is such an amazing writer I am really looking forward to discovering more of her work.

  28. raidergirl3 says:

    Yes! There is another short story of hers, about a little boy in kindergarten who comes home and tells stories about a terrible little boy named Charles.

    It’s very cute and amusing. Read it if you can find it.

  29. Jackie says:

    raidergirl3 – I am looking forward to reading her stories more and more. I am almost tempted to part with my money straight away!

  30. Trish says:

    It’s been a long long time since I’ve read this story, but it’s one of the few that I can remember pretty clearly–so I guess I must have been traumatised. I haven’t read Hunger Games, but I’d bet Suzanne Collins read the story (if she ever had to take English classes in college–seems to be a part of every beginning Lit course)

  31. Michelle says:

    Reading everyone else’s comments has made me forget what I was going to say. This story is on a lot of school reading lists, and I remember reading it, possibly in middle school and I was absolutely shocked. Mouth hanging open shock, I still remeber the feeling. I really should re-read it sometime.

  32. Stacy says:

    I always thought the reason for the lottery was a sacrifice for the fertility of the crops. I myself was really traumatized by the story and wish I had read it at age 18 and not forced to read and see it in movie form in Junior High.

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