The Role Of Setting In The Lottery By Shirley Jackson

When individuals confine themselves to societies ideas, beliefs and values, they are ultimately engaging in a lifelong battle of survival of the fittest. This holds true, literally and figuratively, in the short story, “The Lottery,” written by Shirly Jackson. Shirly expands the meaning behind this message through powerful descriptions of the story's setting which is established early on in the tale and explained further throughout. A quaint community, comprised of three hundred people, is introduced as a non-violent, tranquil and serene place to be apart of. The mood is enlightening and the locals seem arguably content and lively on the day of June 27. It is a society encompassing no central governing body, a limited amount of holidays and an intricate set of customs and social beliefs. The townsfolk surroundings become quite ironic as the ending of the story results in death, despair and misery. The setting of this story influences the characters' beliefs, the uncivilized choices that are made as well as the ironic and tragic ending that depicts the selfish role of humanity.

Jackson uses setting to interpret and decide the characters' beliefs. The townsfolk gather together in the joining of family and friends, children and parents, both young and old. School had recently ended and the children “broke into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands”. What they didn’t speak of was the lottery and what seemed to be their slim chances of survival in the hours moving forward. They were young, still growing with the world and its expectations, but this ritual wasn’t new or different to them in the slightest bit. Jackson also mentions very few holidays that are celebrated by the citizens of this town, only including the “civic activities” like square dances, the teenage club and the Halloween program. In many ways, Halloween strikes people as a dark and frightening night of every year, but to them, it seemed like a significant social occasion. Additionally, Jackson discusses little of the buildings surrounding the town square. The square was located “between the post office and the bank”. However, the author leaves out the essential buildings that complete a town and its community, like a church, courthouse or police station. It seemed the reason behind this harsh ritual was its effects on the harvest. As Old Man Warner put it, “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”. It was believed that the amount of harvest there was, greatly depended on the lottery and whether or not it was achieved. These beliefs and values the citizens are compelled to understand are directly shown through these descriptions of the town.

As the tale continues, the setting becomes more important as the characters' choices are revealed. Each person involved is expected to carry the tradition, although many individuals disagree with the practice of the ritual. Mrs. Adams mentions “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery” and that “Some places have already quit the lotteries” (Jackson, 2019). The idea that there are other societies making a change illustrates how some individuals of the town are afraid of change, while others feel helpless in putting a stop to it. Old Man Warner replies to these comments with “Pack of crazy fools” stating, “There’s always been a lottery” (Jackson, 2019). It is evident that this ritual holds value to those who have lived through years of it, but there are many of whom don’t even remember the reasons behind doing it. Jackson makes this known to shed light on the idea that humans are essentially creatures of habit. Throughout the story, the characters' choices are significant to the setting and plot of the story, but by the end, it is revealed how those choices might inflict on their lives. When the act of stoning takes place, not one person refrains from participating in such a careless deed, even little Davy Hutchinson, the son of Tessie Hutchinson. In fact, “someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles” so that he was able to engage in the stoning of his own mother. The villagers blind acceptance of the lottery has allowed ritual murder to become part of their own town structure.

The setting of this story has built up to a shocking and deadly ending. Ironically, Jackson begins with a detailed depiction of the weather that day. It “was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day”, giving readers a sense of hope and comfort from the very beginning. The image portrayed by the author is that of a typical town on a normal day. However, it is a place where things are not at all what they seem. The establishment of the black box acts as a major turning point for the setting and plot. The entire mood changes as the people of the town become apprehensive and bothered by it. Jackson foreshadows the emotional ending through the introduction of this black box as “the villagers kept their distance” from it. It is a symbol of their unsettling ritual that occurs on June 27 of each year. The most frightful part is the randomness of persecution. To everyone else, Tessie’s innocence didn’t matter. To everyone else, who have just come from work or from their homes, will soon return home for lunch, knowing they took someone’s life because that is what they were told to do. The setting has undoubtedly aided in creating a bizarre outcome for this story as it combines a small-town American population with uncivilized notions.

Throughout this interestingly creative, somewhat outrageous and beyond shocking fictional tale, readers learn the dangers of tradition, the potential violence and selfishness of human beings and the idea that things aren’t always how they seem. Focusing on the setting, Jackson stems together these ideas and uses it to transform the stories meaning in more ways than one. Jackson uses setting to introduce different types of characters and their beliefs. Also, Jackson details the citizens uncultured choices and creates an atmosphere that ironically tells the story. What seemed like a beautiful, comforting and cheerful day, turned into most people’s worst nightmare; not knowing whether or not you’re going to live to see tomorrow. 

16 December 2021
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