Foreshadowing The Lottery
There is no way to better disguise important clues in a short story than Shirley Jackson does in her short story titled "The Lottery." It is her subtle way of portraying what sounds like an innocent story that intrigues the reader. After reading "The Lottery" a popular initial reaction is to wonder why the ending is not obvious while reading through the rising action. It is not until one re-reads the story where the intricate details begin to lead to the surprising result of this odd ritual. Jackson's creative way of portraying these clues allow the reader to suspect something suspicious is taking place, but she also suppresses these feelings by intertwining contradicting clues.
In the beginning of the story, Jackson describes the lottery event as an expected tradition that occurs every year on the assigned date. After reading only the opening paragraph, the reader can gather that it is not a "normal" lottery taking place.
[I]n some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours. (450)
This does not seem to infer that anything dangerous our harmful is going on, but this is a direct clue that Jackson is not describing a typical lottery. The description causes the reader to be skeptical of the event taking "less than two hours" because that it is not how a joyous occasion would be described (450). This is also present toward the end of the paragraph when it is described that the lottery begins at ten o'clock in the morning so there will still be time to allow the villagers to carry on with the rest of their day. If this were a rewarding annual experience Jackson would not have worded this sentence the way she did. Continuing through the remaining parts of the story is where the reader begins to develop and gather more clues to point to something suspicious.
The suspicion begins when the young boys of the village are collecting rocks, not just any rocks, smooth stones. The description of the texture of the stones the boys are collecting is very subtle, but Jackson is very poignant to be sure it is another clue to catch the reader's attention. Because this is such a small event found in the story, there is still not enough evidence to confidently question the situation.
Directly after this illustration, Jackson includes a paragraph describing the town's men and women as they gather in the square. Her depiction of them seems so innocent as they laugh with each other, gossip together, and speak of planting and taxes. This is one of Jackson's deliberate moves she implants to throw the reader off into doubting their initial reaction. By describing all the innocence in the town, the thought of something suspicious occurring is suddenly calmed.
As the story continues, the set up for the lottery to occur is explained, but the reader is still left on the outside looking for answers to figure out what truly is going on.
When Jackson describes the black box being brought in, the box where the family names are drawn, she teases the reader with yet another subtle clue. The black box is set in the center of the square as the villagers all watch carefully. "The villagers kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool, and when Mr. Summers said, 'Some of you fellows want to give me a hand?' there was a hesitation…"(451). This implies that the villagers are all very questionable of their actions at this annual event. It seems as though the event is innocent; simply something that occurs every year on June 27th, but suddenly skepticism is apparent as the crowd hesitates once the black box is brought to the gathering.
The chaos of the event starts to take place as Mr. Summers, who conducts the lottery each year, begins to make up the lists of family members and to which household each village member belongs. The several lists being double-checked causes the reader to question what the lists function is for this annual event. This presents another hint that there is suspicion in the event about to take place, but once again this feeling is calmed when Jackson includes "…the proper swearing-in of Mr. Summers…"(452). This event turns an odd loop in the story because the swearing in of an official leads the reader to conclude that everything in the story is legitimate and there is nothing unusual about the event taking place. It is this statement which relieves the reader, but at the same time, confuses them because there are so many other clues already installed in the story earlier to point to something suspicious.
After Mr. Summers is all settled in with his tasks for the morning, the village crowd turns to silence. Mr. Summers announces, "Now I'll read the names-heads of families first-and the men come up and take a paper out of the box" (453). The whole procedure of "The Lottery" has just been explained to the reader directly without any hidden meanings. Jackson is no longer keeping the action of the event a secret, but the reader still cannot identify the outcome. This is an important part in the story because it gives the reader a sense of satisfaction that the procedure is now explained. The reader no longer needs to question what event the village is preparing for; however, the effect of the event about to take place in moments remains a mystery. This strategy is part of Jackson's creative way of portraying her subtle clues in the story.
As the crowd of villagers comes up individually, after their name is called, they draw from the black box and return to their previous location amongst the crowd. As Jack Watson's name is shouted out by Mr. Summers he walks up to the box and someone from the crowd says, "Don't be nervous, Jack" (455). This is the biggest clue to the reader that something unusual is occurring this day. There is always a great feeling of vulnerability while drawing out of a hat, or taking a chance but this comment, along with the clues seen before, indicates danger. By studying this comment of nervousness and looking back to the hesitant reaction about the crowd when the black box was first brought out supports this evidence.
To continue with the evidence, Jackson finally makes it clear to the reader that a tragedy is occurring when one of the members of the village screams, "It isn't fair, it isn't right" (457). This time there is no evidence to calm or trick the reader that the lottery drawing is an innocent event. A loud scream about the crowd, after they had been so quiet, directly indicates to the reader that the lottery is pure tradition and not something the villagers enjoy to participate in. It is creative the way Jackson leaves this direct clue until the very end of the story. This causes the reader to question the event until the conclusion is very near. By placing this quote where she did leads the reader to know that now "The Lottery" is associated with tragedy.
By studying these many clues foreshadowing the tragic event which occurs at the end of "The Lottery", one can discover that Jackson placed these items purposely. Her strategy of installing subtle clues throughout the story causes the reader to question the event throughout the story. The way she places these hints, allowing the reader to become suspicious, and then places contradicting clues directly after, shows her creative style. It is not until the very end of "The Lottery" that one fully understands that the tradition is a tragedy that takes place every year.