Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Ironies in the Lottery

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Ironies in the Lottery

Article excerpt


Shirley Jackson is a prestigious writer in the twentieth century. Different from other female writers who are romantic and tender, and who tend to convince readers with softwords and mild tones, she writes stories which are often violent and bloody. She is willing to shock readers with impressive and unforgettable scenes, and she likes to use ironic pictures to insinuate her criticisms. The short story, "The Lottery" is a typical example of her use of irony. Previous researches on the story have mainly focused on people in the village who are bound by tradition or on the analysis of South America in the light of cultural study. This paper intends to analyze the story from the angle of the use of irony in the story, through which the author artfully punches on the indifferent people, capitalism, and religion.

Key words: Shirley Jackson; The lottery; Ironies and ironic figures

Shirley Jackson (December 14, 1916 - August 8, 1965), a famous American writer in her time, is well-known for a number of wonderful stories including "The Road through the Wall", "Hangsaman", "The Bird's Nest" and so on. "The Lottery", the title story of the anthology The Lottery and Other Stories, is the most eminent. This story was first published on June 26th, 1948 in New Yorker. At the beginning, readers' first responses to the story were negative to the degree that many subscribers even canceled their subscription of the magazine. In her biography of Jackson, Lenemaja Friedman reports that when the story is published "no New Yorker story had ever received" a similar response by readers, hundreds of whom send letters that are marred by "bewilderment, speculation, and old-fashioned abuse" (Friedman, p. 63). Kyla Ward also notes that "The New Yorker was besieged with letters" for weeks afterwards, some protesting about the "violent and pointless story, some praising the brilliant moral allegory, but most demanding to know what it meant" (Ward). The story is even banned in the Union of South Africa, a fact which made Jackson proud instead of discouraged, because she was happy to know people there had grasped the essence of the story. With the elapse of the time, the story finally was recognized as a classic of American short fiction, attracting many critics and even producers who adapted it into films. It has also been taught in middle schools and high schools for decades.

Most of Jackson's works are set in a small town in South America. In the guise of a pastoral beginning, her stories usually end in vicious scenes. According to Stanley Edgar Hyman, "the darker aspects of Jackson's works were not, as some critics claimed, the product of 'personal, even neurotic, fantasies', but that Jackson intended, as 'a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the Bomb', to mirror humanity's Cold Warera fears." Like many writers, Jackson uses many figures of speech including symbolism, parody, and allusion and so on. Irony, in particular, is an indispensible part of her work. She uses ironies and ironic figures in many works, not just for enhancing pleasure, but rather for higher artistic purposes. While delighting readers, they force them to probe the profound, often unpleasant truth in comic scenes, situations marked by mock seriousness.

"The lottery" is set in a small town, where people enjoy a peaceful life all the year except one day, the twenty-seventh, when the villagers assemble to perform a rite which has a long history. The outcome of the rite is to decide who will be stoned to death by the people in village; a horrible result which does not appear until you finish the story. The author skillfully holds your attention, and builds up suspense, using irony when she has a chance. The ironies and ironic figures in the work help the author to weave the story and sustain the readers' attraction as well as convey her sharp criticisms.

By careful reading one may identify five cases of ironies and four ironic figures, each of them playing a positive role in animating the work and bearing the author's criticism. …

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