Musings in the Dark: Horror 101: "The Lottery."


Horror 101: "The Lottery."

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” was first published in the New Yorker in June of 1948.  It’s a strange little tale about a small town ritual that takes place every year at the end of June.  The residents gather and draw ballots from a black box.  Every family in the village must be accounted for.  The family that draws the ballot with the black mark then has to draw ballots for a second time; one for every member of the family.  When a family member draws the black marked ballot, that person is surrounded by the townspeople and stoned to death.  

The reason for this ritual is to ensure a good fall harvest.  The tradition has gone on for decades and it seems that the townspeople continue to do it out of mostly out of habit, not necessity.  They’re not even sure of the details surrounding the origin of the lottery, but they participate nonetheless.

I want to focus on this:  A person is surrounded by her (in this case, Tessie Hutchinson) neighbors and is stoned to death.  This story ends with a person being stoned to death.

This story ends with a person being stoned to death.

Think about it.  Stoned. To. Death.  That means people get to hit you with rocks until you die.  Do you know how long that takes?  To have to stand there and be tortured like that all for the sake of a harvest…this story stuck with me for years.  One of the reasons it’s such a horrifying tale is because of the mob mentality.  The entire town participates and in this case, Tessie’s own son is given pebbles to throw at his mother.  No one ever knows the identity of the person who throws the rock that kills the unfortunate lottery winner and therefore, no one ever takes responsibility.    

The very idea of this whole thing gives me the heebie-jeebies.  There are all sorts of analyses and think pieces regarding Mrs. Jackson’s nasty little narrative, but I don’t need to be told how I should feel about it.  Getting hit with one rock is enough for me, but to be continuously pelted until your heart no longer beats…?  Nope, nope, nope!

Bravo, Mrs. Jackson.

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