Friday, December 12, 2008

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

Source: The New Yorker Fiction Podcast (MP3)
Length: 32 min
Reader: A. M. Homes

The story: Somewhere in apple pie and general store America, a small town gathers for a yearly ritual: the lottery. Almost everyone, young and old, has assembled with a mixture of excitement and nervous energy. The older townspeople speak about memories of lotteries in the past, comparing the present protocol to how it used to be done. Expectations build as the preliminaries begin, leading up to the drawing.

This is a very famous story, at least in the U.S., and therefore has gathered a number of interpretations, from Christian to Marxist. Without giving away the ending, I cannot discuss these interpretations, but I do believe that, in addition to any other meaning, the story is about tradition. At the time when the story was written just after World War II, America had just been through a time of some of the most radical changes in its history. The lottery that the small town participates in is a constant, a holdover from their grandparents' day. Jackson respects this tradition. She shows the lottery as a source of pride for the town, but at the same time she makes it clear that even though it may bring people together, the objects of a tradition may not always be good.

Rating: 9/10

The reader: Ms. Homes's reading reflects the quality of this piece. Her voice is quiet and calm, but with an underlying tension, just as in the story. The discussion at the end with fiction editor Deborah Treisman is enlightening. Included topics of conversation are one-hit writers, women authors in the 1940s, and the ghettoization of science fiction. As is typical for the NY'er fiction podcast, the production values are high. With all the belt-tightening going on in the media, I hope this podcast won't be one of the casualties.


Yoknapatawpha Kid said...

Dear Free Listens,

This is a nice post on "The Lottery"! My name is Peter Ricci, and I am a college student and journalist. Currently, I am writing for 'Too Shy to Stop,' an online magazine that focuses on culture and the arts.

My latest story, as chance would have it, is about "The Lottery," and I stumbled across your post while doing research. Here is the link to the story: I focus on both the themes and history of the story, assessing why it creates such discomfort with readers and whether a story of "The Lottery"-type would find such controversy.

So check it out! I think you'll like it. Be sure to leave a comment, also. We love reader input!


Peter Ricci

Erez said...

A small technical note: I believe the reader's name is Homes, not Holmes.

About the story: perhaps I've simply been exposed to it too late in my life, but I feel that I've read and seen too many similar thing (Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" comes to mind, as does Buffy the Vampire Slayer) for this story to have the intended effect on me. Just my thoughts.

Listener said...

Thanks for your comment, Erez. I corrected A.M. Homes. I guess I'd just been reading too much Conan Doyle when I wrote this one.

Nicholas Clifford said...

Two comments on The Lottery:

1) While no specific geographic location is given,I think most people place the story in rural New England, northern rural New England, and more specifically Vermont, if only because Jackson was living in Bennington when she wrote it.

2) Some decades ago, when we were living in Taiwan, my wife (a writer and historian)was tutoring a small group of twenty-something Chinese to help them improve their English. She gave them some stories to read, one of them "The Lottery" (it's short, pithy, and has a fairly simple vocabulary). They were utterly horrified: "is that what living in America is really like?" they wanted to know.