Short Story Review: "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is one of the most chilling short stories of the 20th century. It is not horror, but it is horrifying. It is not religious, but it is a commentary on blind tradition. It is not violent, but it hints at a violence that is intolerable to most of us. All in all, it is just a few pages that are well worth the effort it takes to read them. The brevity itself lends yet another element to the story, as it amazingly needs no more words to say quite a lot.

This paragraph is going to be a bit of a spoiler. Sorry, it is hard to write about such a short story without spoiling anything. You can go ahead and skip to the next. I promise I will stop my spoiling short of the next paragraph. "The Lottery" surrounds an eponymous event that is described with such complete lack of emotional involvement by the writer that the reader is forced to draw all of their own conclusions about emotions and morality with the sudden realization that comes at the end -- these casually talking people are figuratively drawing straws on who is going to get stoned to death and no one is going to stop short of throwing stones, even if it is at Mommy. It adds up to a scathing, though utterly simple, look at the ignorance of blindly following tradition for the sake of tradition.

There is not much to say about "The Lottery" that the story does not say for itself. Jackson used as few words as possible to tell a story that is much more complex in its ideas than it is in its scope. It is one of the few stories that cannot be properly dissected in fewer words than the story itself. I really have no words for the level of sophistication in simplicity that she achieved and can only urge you to read this story, if you have not yet done so.

Shelly Barclay 

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