Things Are Not Always What They Seem
The underpinnings of Shirley Jackson’s famous post-World War II story “The Lottery” demonstrate that the work is far greater than the sum of its parts. The date of the lottery, its location, and the symbolic or ironic names of its characters all work to convey a meaning that is even more disturbing than the shock created by its well-known ending, namely, that despite assurances during the late 1940s that “it couldn’t happen here,” a microsomal holocaust occurs in this story and, by extension, may happen anyplace in contemporary America. Coming after the revelation of the depths of depravity to which the Nazis sank in their eagerness to destroy others, “lesser” peoples, “The Lottery” upsets the reader’s sense of complacency.
Shirley Jackson lets us know the time of the lottery at the outset of the story. From the description of the men’s talk of “tractors and taxes” (388) and the depiction of Mr. Summers wearing a “clean white shirt and blue jeans” (389), we may assume that we are in the twentieth century, making the story’s impact more immediate. But why does the author choose June 27th as the date on which the village holds its lottery? The summer solstice, June 21st, has already passed, and the Fourth of July is yet to come. The date, if not the century, seems to have been capriciously chosen. Such is not the case, however. June 27th falls halfway between June 21st and July 4th. What significance do these two days bear that makes June 27th the perfect compromise between them?
“In European societies, Midsummer’s day was celebrated at the summer’s solstice, not in the middle of the summer as its name would suggest. Authors such as Shakespeare, August Strindberg, and William Golding have employed the pagan undertones of that day as modified in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Miss Julie, and The Spire, respectively, for indeed Midsummer’s Day has a long, heathen, orgiastic tradition behind it. American Independence...