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Stones Create Echoes

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Category: English

Autor: anton 14 July 2011

Words: 1545 | Pages: 7

Stones create echoes: Shirly Jackson’s “The Lottery”

Voices of the past carry on through literature. Time erodes the body and mind of all who have graced this planet, but the words of immortal prose stay to guide and console those left to carry on Mankind’s greatest endeavors. Many works have surfaced and have been buried, only to resurface again: usually with truth building like equity, as the human race completes its cycles of historic repetition. It is of one of these great truth-bearing stories that this work (whose words you hold now) pertains. By simplifying the social dynamic and illustrating the relationships between various forms of power in society, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” parallels current events in our modern capitalistic age. A.M. Homes states that, “Jackson works with precision; she sees things as if she's zoomed in and has got life under a magnifying glass. And it's not just any glass, but one with a curved owlish lens, so that perhaps we see and know a little more than usual. Her authorial voice is as idiosyncratic and individual as a fingerprint, and has the ring of God's honest truth (A.M. Homes).”

War, famine, the media, and corporate greed are all injustices that we are not a stranger to. It is important to realize that these problems have existed since the beginning of man’s assent over the natural world. By discovering the history of a problem, the observers of such a truth can put the proper amount of urgency behind it. And change can at last prevail.

The story opens on a clear and sunny summer day in a small New England village. The village is host to about three hundred souls. On the surface this story contrasts modern lifestyles against an old pagan-like ritual that even the children participate in. After two rounds of drawing slips of paper, a “winner” is determined and stoned to death by everyone in the town. When approached in this simplistic manner it is no wonder why Jackson and the New Yorker (which published the work originally in June 28, 1948 ) received much harsh criticism and hate mail. The response apparently was surprising to Jackson:

Curiously, there are three main themes which dominate the letters of that first summer—three themes which might be identified as bewilderment, speculation and plain old-fashioned abuse. In the years since then, during which the story has been anthologized, dramatized, televised, and even—in one completely mystifying transformation—made into a ballet, the tenor of letters I receive has changed. I am addressed more politely, as a rule, and the letters largely confine themselves to questions like what does this story mean? The general tone of the early letters, however, was a kind of wide-eyed, shocked innocence. People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch (Jackson qt by Wikipedia).

However important themes were recognized elsewhere, more notably in South Africa (a country under the rule of apartheid) where the story was banned. A more in-depth look at this work is required to gain an understanding how a simple story can cause such an uproar. To achieve this aim, a deconstruction of Jackson’s world is the best method.

The first thing Jackson does is pull us into a smaller representation of populous. She describes to us an image of what we now know as suburban life and places this event right in-between the post office (a symbol of governmental authority) and the bank (a symbol of financial power).

Mr. Summers is the owner of the town’s largest business, a coal mine and its mayor. He represents corporate power in America. Mr. Graves, the postman and Summer’s sidekick. He represents the government’s officials in power. Mr. Martin, who has the distinct honor to be the town’s only grocer, represents power in controlling commodities. These three make up the “ruling class.”

The lottery partly consists of an old black box described as growing “…shabbier each year,” and stating that “…by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places was faded or stained (Jackson 348).” No one wants to make a new box, because nobody wanted to, “…upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box (Jackson 348).” The box more represents society’s status quo. Nobody wants to change the system even though it is in need of visible repair.

In it are placed slips of paper. The paper had replaced wooden chips that had been used for generations. Mr. Summers thought this a better idea as the population increased (Jackson 348). Obviously this symbolizes society as individuals, but what is interesting to note is the shift from wood to paper. Both objects come from the tree, possibly a metaphor for the relationship between humans and humanity. Paper is a lot thinner than chips of wood, saying that there is a negative correlation between population and the substance of the individual.

On one of the slips of paper is a black dot. Even the dot has some symbolic spice on it. Summer’s is responsible for the crafting of the materials contained within the box. He is the one who marks “the dot” on that fated slip of thin paper. The dot is black, a traditional fore-shadow of death, and Summer’s is in the coal industry. One could imagine the man in his office taking a lump of coal, the manner of his success, and coloring in the circle that would later create a death.

The box lives out its days traversing between Mr. Grave’s barn, Summer’s office, and the grocery store, where there it sits on a high shelf and “left there (Jackson 348).” So the box only resides in the homes and businesses of the ruling class, unless it is being displayed to all the people (remember, it is the only grocery store) in town as a constant reminder of the lottery.

Peter Kosenko, in his critical essay entitled A Reading of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, refers to the box as an “ideological mechanism” and then asserts:

The lottery's democratic illusion, then, is an ideological effect that prevents the villagers from criticizing the class structure of their society. But this illusion alone does not account for the full force of the lottery over the village. The lottery also reinforces a village work ethic which distracts the villagers' attention from the division of labor that keeps women powerless in their homes and Mr. Summers powerful in his coal company office. (Koesnko)

The common people in this story are the greatest symbol of all, as they represent society at large. The people have grown complacent to the lottery saying, “Seems like no time between lotteries any more,” and, “Seems like we got through with the last one only last week.” A few of them say that they have heard of towns that have abolished the lottery (Jackson 350). This attempt to circumvent tradition is quickly quelled by Old Man Warner. He reminds the townsfolk that, “A lottery in June, corn be heavy soon (Jackson 350).” Warner speaks despairingly of the youth and new ideas. He represents the difficulties of change and the stigmas that must be overcome before a change can occur.

Tessie Hutchinson is left with the black dot. She, who was not one of the ones to question the lottery earlier, is now very upset and claiming that her husband had not the adequate amount of time to select a slip: though she would have had no problem in participating if it were someone else (Jackson 352).

It is at this point we see the evil Mrs. Jackson had intended for us. The crowd completes its ritual by throwing stones at Mrs. Hutchinson. This includes both her family and all of the children in the town (Jackson 352). An image such as this demands attention. It shows the indoctrination of the youth into the practices of the prevailing culture. It also illustrates the role of the older generation to the newer. By passing to their children an act of what we would think of as evil, it highlights that responsibility. Those children will never think the stoning is wrong, fore they have been “taught” a purpose to it. It is a part of their lives much like any holiday.

In our “modern” world we face the same constrains as the people of Mrs. Jackson’s little village. Right now and for every night since 2001, America has been watching a war. Passively engaged in battle for views most of its citizens either do not believe or just do not understand. Still we watch, still we participate, throwing stones many times heavier than ourselves. Sure some may question this pagan rite of war, but just like those in that small New England town, if we really wanted it to be over, it would be so.

Works Cited

A.M. Homes. “Introduction: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.” www.amhomesbooks.com. 07-12-07. <http://www.amhomesbooks.com/index.php?mode=objectlist&section_id=150& object_ id=252>.

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” Literature, Reading, Writing, Reacting. Keesbury, Aron. Boston, Massachusetts. Thompson Wadworth. 2004. 346-353.

Kosenko, Peter. “A Reading of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” www.netwood.net. 07-12-07. < http://www.netwood.net/~kosenko/jackson.html>.

Wikipedia. “The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.” www.wikipedia.org. 07-12-07.< http://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/ The_Lottery>.

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