Blind Obedience in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery Essay

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When Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” was first published in The New Yorker in 1948, it struck a nerve with readers. “The story was incendiary; readers acted as if a bomb had blown up in their faces . . . Shirley struck a nerve in mid-twentieth-century America . . . She had told people a painful truth about themselves” (Oppenheimer 129). Interestingly, the story strikes that same nerve with readers today. When my English class recently viewed the video, those students who had not previously read the story reacted quite strongly to the ending. I recall this same reaction when I was in high school. Our English teacher chose to show the video before any student had read the story. Almost every student in the class reacted with …show more content…
In this, they were enacting a
Mesoamerican tradition that originated far back in the region’s past” (Allan 19). Throughout more modern history, wars have been fought resulting in the deaths of millions. Murders and other violent crimes are inescapable. Throughout mankind’s history, it can be shown that man’s capacity for evil has no limits. But is this what troubles readers of Jackson’s story?

“We cannot, in all honesty, make any serious claim that our own culture really abhors violence. . . . Modern society still feels the need to watch violent events, whether it be at a boxing match or spattered across the cinema screen” (Baker 5). Society today is bombarded with violence. There is graphic, and often gratuitous, violence in movies and video games. Most people do not give this type of violence a second thought. This may be because they know that the violence in the movies or games is not real, but “The Lottery” was just a story; it, too, was not real. So what is it about Jackson’s story that hits readers so deeply? What makes “The
Lottery” so disturbing?

For years, critics have been trying to answer these questions. Some have focused on the story’s symbolism, while others have focused on its relationship to the horrors of World War II.
Jay Yarmove writes, “Coming after the revelation of the depths of depravity to which the Nazis sank in their eagerness to destroy other, ‘lesser’ peoples, ‘The Lottery’ upsets the