When analyzing Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" from a new historical prospective, many factors must be considered. "The Lottery" was published in The New Yorker on the morning of June 28, 1948. Shirley Jackson had written this short story just three weeks before this day. This date is important when understanding the society in which Shirley Jackson was living and the impact that this historical period had on "The #Lottery."The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson was found to be objectionable by most of its readers. There was a great deal of controversy over the meaning of the story.
To Shirley Jackson this story actually had no meaning. When asked by disappointed readers regarding her intention in writing the story, she insisted she had written the story from beginning to end without a purpose, simply as a creative expression put to words. While examining "The Lottery" from a new historical prospective, the author's lack of rationale and assessment of her own work does not make the task any easier. Through careful analysis of the environment in which this piece was written, two possible meanings of this short story have emerged, either Jackson's story symbolizes World War II and how people give up their lives for a cause beyond their control, or it symbolizes her own life as a home maker and its lack of direction beyond the home. By 1948, when the story was written, America had been to hell and back following World War II. In the time period following the war, the American people's attitude was positive, they never thought that something bad could happen to them.
The s#ix year long World War II had ended only three years before this story was published and the United States was still intact. The people of our country must have felt invincible, and did not want to be reminded of death and the uncertainty they felt during the war. In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" any positive attitude that the characters had was destroyed every June when the lottery was held, simply because the "winner" of the lottery was stoned to death. The connotation of the word "lottery" is that of something good, perhaps to acquire a prize of some sort. But in this story, the stoning of the winner is a significant twist, in which the positive nature of the title of the story becomes morose. This made the story very controversial and the people of the time did not enjoy reading it.
Americans did not want to hear about innocent people dying, they had had enough of that and it was time to move on. In a way the lottery in this story can be looked at as a war, and the soldiers are the people who's names are on a little pieces of paper in the black box. The winners of the lottery symbolize the soldiers who died for our country. In the war, the soldiers died so that the crops can grow, but how is sacrificing a person supposed to make crops grow? This notion is preposterous, and it may be what Shirley Jackson is trying to say in her short story. "The Lottery" could mean that there is no good reason for war and that people don't have to die. After all, the lottery in the story did not make sense to us, but the process was the norm to the people in the story.
"The Lottery" could be trying to prove that what may seem to be the norm is actually not the right thing to do. We are interpreting the story as outsiders and cannot relate to it on the same level. It is simple to #relate to war because it has become a norm in the world we live in, but obviously an outsider will see something wrong with killing other people. Jackson invents this fantasy story line believing that no one will relate to it. It is her way of expressing herself without saying what she really feels and risk contradicting the society as a whole. Perhaps the audience disliked the story because it brought back terrible memories of the death and destruction of the recent war, and its seemingly purposeless nature.
When examining "The Lottery" on a more personal level, it is evident that Shirley Jackson had just finished tending to the domestic side of her life when she decided to start writing this short story. The idea came to her while pushing her baby's stroller one warm morning. Shirley Jackson added, "the effect of that last fifty yards up the hill put an edge to the story." When Jackson got home she put her daughter in the playpen and commenced to write "The Lottery," she wrote it from beginning to end without pause. Shirley Jackson was a housewife and in the 1940's women's lives were going through drastic changes. During World War II many women had to leave their posts as housewife and were forced into industry. During this time, in 1942, the National War Labor Board (NCLB) attempted to erase some of the long standing inequalities in women's pay, and they attempted to employ an equal pay principle.
Women were supposed to be paid the same as men for comparable work, however these standards were rarely enforced. After the United States achieved victory in August of 1945, millions of #men returned home and expected every thing to be how they had left it. This meant that the women could once again go back home and take care of their families. The only #problem was that women did not want to leave their jobs.
For the first time ever, women had experienced many new opportunities and felt a sense of independence. During 1944 and 1945 the Women's Bureau conducted a survey in defense centers and 75% of the women responded that they did not want to leave their jobs. Women had finally become accustomed to this drastic change for the better, and it was hard to realize that it was only temporary. The women who did stay received massive pay cuts and demotions. These set backs were minor compared to the things that were going on before World War II. After all, this was the first time that women had ever experienced a sort of sense of economic mobility, and they were not about to let minor setbacks take that away.
As mentioned before, Shirley Jackson was a housewife during this time period. Perhaps the character of Mrs. Hutchinson in "The Lottery" is her counterpart in that imaginary world. To Shirley Jackson, the story could mean that being a housewife does not take you far in life, perhaps feeling that the workforce contributes more to society than taking care of a home and children. Shirley Jackson added in two lines to her story to let the readers know that Mrs. Hutchinson was a housewife.
The man holding the lottery, Mr. Summers, said, "Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie." Mrs Hutchinson said "Wouldn't have me leave m'dishes in the sink, now, would you, Joe?" (383) Those two lines seem unnecessary, and it is evident that Jackson added them for the purpose of informing the audience of Mrs. Hutchinson's simple life. The immense impact of World War II on the United States and Shirley Jackson's own life played a considerable role in the writing of this story. The political and civil unrest that the war caused introduced emotions that people of the time had not experienced. The uncertainty that it caused regarding the success of the men sent to war and the new-found responsibility of women in the work force created a change in society toward harmony and peace.
But certain unspoken issues possibly remained in the eyes of Shirley Jackson. The story can be seen through two perspectives that relate to the events of the time, it could symbolize the war and how there is no reason for innocent people to lose their lives for an unjustified cause, or it means that women, when seen simply as housewives, will never make significant contributions to society and the only way around the indignity is death. Considering the fact that the author argues this piece was written without a purpose, it is not known whether this analysis is correct. It seems that the mood of the society at the time, especially following a war, could have made a significant impression on anyone's emotions, and perhaps Jackson simply put those e#motions into words. There is a chance that the author's subconscious played a role in the writing of this story, and following this New Historical analysis of the work, this written manifestation of her thoughts can be explained. Bibliography Ann Charters.
The Story And Its Writer, An Introduction To Short Fiction. 6 th Ed. Pp. 380-387. "The Lottery." Bedford/St. Martins, New York, NY.