Lesson #386: The Lottery

I was hanging out, recently, with a friend and another guy we know from the neighbourhood. He was talking about how the Final Jeopardy question the night before (category: literature) had been something along the lines of, “her 1948 story led people to write to ask where this town was and how they could take part”, at which both of us immediately guessed, “Shirley Jackson?!?”

Because literally (and I do mean that in the proper dictionary sense) everyone who went to high school in America has read The Lottery, which is one of the most disturbing pieces of fiction I’ve ever read in my life,* and I love dystopian literature.** But seriously, can we talk about how people wanted to actively participate in this sort of violence? Because…dude. DUDE! This is a story about the danger of conformity! The entire plot is a bunch of people stoning one of their friends to death for no other reason than because tradition mandates it, and that person was unlucky enough to draw the dot! This is the one short story that I can mention to anyone and, without fail, watch them cringe.

But here’s a fun piece of knowledge: although it’s never explicitly stated, Jackson based the town in her short story on Bennington, Vermont. I found this fascinating because, in my head, this story has always taken place somewhere out west. I don’t know why, to be honest; it just always has. I’ve always imagined a dusty kind of a place.

*I’d also list Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ and Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’ for very different reasons.

**I like dystopias because I find them an interesting study in revolutionary theory and how and why certain cultures revolt…one of the chapters of my MA thesis is actually titled ‘Ideas are Bulletproof.’ But I also really enjoy post-apocalyptic literature as well because I find the concept of how people act and react in the absence of “normalcy” fascinating. This probably shouldn’t be news.

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