The Lottery
A short story by Shirley Jackson

I remember hearing about the short story, The Lottery, many years ago. People raved about it but they also gave away the plot.

After reading another one of Shirley Jackson's short stories that I stumbled upon in a grammar book, After You My Dear Alphonse, I wondered if I would like The Lottery as much.

Next, I heard The Lottery read on Selected Shorts on National Public Radio and I was very disappointed. It seemed like it didn't stand up to the test time. I thought that maybe it made a big stir when it first appeared in the New Yorker because of its shock value and not its literary value.

But then I picked it up and read it myself and I found I liked it a lot more than when I heard it on NPR. Why? I don't know. What probably made a difference was the pacing.

When I heard it on the radio, I thought that the beginning was too drawn out with unimportant details underlining too much how identifiably mundane the setting was. The over attention to detail reminded me of another writer for the New Yorker, J.D. Salinger (A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Green My Eyes, Uncle Wiggly) who could be accused of doing a fine job of writing at length about practically nothing. Was this part of the New Yorker style? Enough of what people were wearing and how many clouds there were in the sky. It seemed maddeningly slow when you thought about the violent end you knew would come.

Also, when it was read on the radio, the reader kept the same voice and expression for all of the dialogue. This probably made it more difficult for my imagination to distinguish between the characters.

A week before Halloween I curled up with a copy of the story, expecting to dislike it, but I found that I liked it very much and thought it was rather well written.

My only hesitation with sharing this with my 7th grade class was that it's rather long and that they might drown in the undramatic mundane details....

When I read the story I didn't find anything that I would have suggested be cut. The details, descriptions, causal dialogue, all seemed to have a purpose. They weren't broad brushed background, or an intentional lulling to accentuate the shock at the end.

I wouldn't want my students to miss any of the minor details of the story so I wouldn't abridge it. I would also divide the story into three or four parts to be read slowly over a period of days. The effect of the ending is more powerful when you realize that all the proceeding pages have significance.

Because of the harvest season setting and the gruesome plot, this story would be appropriate proceeding Halloween.

I divided the reading into three parts. I didn't want any students skipping a head to see how it ended.

Concerning pages 372-373

Concerning pages 374-375
  Concerning pages 376-379
  We spent several days on the story, going through it slowly.

I started the class everyday by passing around slips of paper and I told students that they may write their names on it.

Then I passed around around a black box with an opening on the top of it. I didn't tell the students what do it. Reflexively, they put the slips of paper with their names on it in the box. Then I reached in, pulled out a name and gave the student a piece of candy.

We did this day after day and it reinforced their idea of a lottery as something that is pleasant.

Unfortunately, the ending of the story didn't have the strong impact I was hoping for.

Why? I'm not sure, but here are some guesses.

My students have no background knowledge of a time or place where a group of people would make a sacrificial offering to a deity. Nor do they have any concept of worshiping a deity that would be anything other than sweet and kind.

Nor are they familiar with stoning.

When we read this story again next year, I'll be sure to provide them with this baseline knowledge. Maybe we'll view selected scenes from The Ten Commandments and Joe and the Volcano. I heard there exists a film adaptation of the Lottery but I haven't been able to track it down.

Morrill Books