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The Lottery

Shirley Jackson

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Specific Details

The specific details Jackson describes in the beginning of “The Lottery” set us up for the shocking conclusion. In the first paragraph, Jackson provides specific details about the day on which the lottery takes place. She tells us the date (June 27), time (about 10 a.m.), and temperature (warm). She describes the scene exactly: there are flowers and green grass, and the town square, where everyone gathers, is between the bank and post office. She provides specifics about the town, including how many people live there and how long the lottery takes, as well as about neighboring towns, which have more people and must start the lottery earlier. In the paragraphs that follow this introduction, Jackson gives us characters’ full names—Bobby Martin, Harry Jones, and Dickie Delacroix, among others—and even tells us how to pronounce “Delacroix.”

Far from being superfluous or irrelevant, these initial specific details ground the story in reality. Because she sets the story firmly in a specific place and time, Jackson seems to suggest that the story will be a chronicle of sorts, describing the tradition of the lottery. The specifics continue throughout the story, from the numerous rules Mr. Summers follows to the names of the people who are called up to the box. In a way, there is safety in these details—the world Jackson creates seems much like the one we know. And then the stoning begins, turning reality on its head. Because Jackson is so meticulous in grounding us in realistic, specific details, they sharpen the violence and make the ending so incredibly surprising.

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Short, but still exciting story.

by MariaDPettiford, July 25, 2017

"The Lottery" is a short story by Shirley Jackson, written just months before its first publication, in the June 26, 1948. The story describes a fictional small town which observes—as do many other communities, both large and small, throughout contemporary America—an annual ritual known as "the lottery". It has been described as "one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature". If you like short, but outstanding stories, this is one of that kind.

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