Monday, June 15, 2009

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

A few days ago, Paperback Reader wrote a post on The Lottery by Shirley Jackson that really captured my attention.  I had to stop what I was doing and immediately read the story.  A single word sums up my reaction - horror.  I was utterly and completely horrified.

The Lottery, first published in The New Yorker in 1948, centers on a very ritualistic  yearly lottery that occurs  in  a small, pastoral village.  The story is very short (just 5 pages) and to say much more could spoil it.  Read the story for yourself here, if you dare.

Throughout her life, Jackson (1916 - 1965)  shied away from interviews and refused to promote or explain her work.  However, The Lottery aroused such controversy that Jackson issued a statement in The San Francisco Chronicle on July 22, 1948:

Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.

The Lottery is truly an amazing read.  I've never had a story evoke such strong emotions. Jackson is also well known for The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle  It sounds like these would make excellent Halloween reading fare, and I'd like to read at least one of them this fall.

To see who else is talking about short stories today, visit The Book Mine Set.


  1. I really hate to say this but The Lottery has long been one of my favorite short stories. The other is Brokeback Mountain.
    The Lottery coveys so much in so little. It's amazing and horrifying.

  2. It really is horrifying. I love it, though. The novels are also excellent - especially We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

  3. Linda - Brokeback Mountain is on my tbr list - thanks for reminding me! The Lottery was amazing.

  4. Nymeth - I don't think a short story has ever evoked such a strong reaction in me. Jackson is one talented writer! Glad to have a recommendation of which novel (novella?) to read first.

  5. JoAnn, I am glad that you had as intense a reaction as I did. I am still reeling from it; it is the first short story for some time that has provoked such a strong reaction. Shirley Jackson definitely made an impression on me and I'm also planning to read her novels in Autumn.
    Thank you for the mention and for sharing this story with even more people (Jackie at FarmLaneBooks did likewise).

  6. Claire from Paperback Reader persuaded me to read it straight away too! I am so glad you 'enjoyed?' it too.

  7. The Lottery is fantastic! I've read Jackson's novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle (recommend it!) and want to read more of her.

  8. Paperback Reader - It was intense all right...and very memorable. Thank you for the push to read it!

    Jackie - I actually did enjoy it, but realized that wasn't made very clear in my post. I added another sentence or two.

    Tara - That's the second recommendation for We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I'll definitely start with that one - thanks!

  9. I thought the same thing when I read it but I still love it!!! I want to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle but haven't gotten to it yet!!

  10. It is horrifying the first time you read it. I think that is one of the things that makes it so good. You don't see it coming, but yet, you go back and reread it, and you really should have. The horrifying part is the normalcy. I love Shirley Jackson. Anyone who hasn't read her novels are definitely missing out. The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are both excellent.

  11. Lisa,
    That's exactly how I felt after rereading - why didn't I see this coming? I can't wait to read Jackson's novels this fall.
    I'm so glad to see your comment today! I haven't heard from you in a while. I hope all is well...


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