Literary Analysis Essay on Irony in The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Published: 2021-08-15
903 words
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Wesleyan University
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Critical thinking
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The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a short story that depicts scapegoating and violence that occurs in the society. The story is based on a small unnamed town that carries out an annual rite of stoning known as the lottery. In this story, Shirley Jackson makes use of irony to emphasize her theme of scapegoating and victimization that is hidden behind cultural practices of sacrificial killing (Zhu 35).

The first instance of the use of irony is in the title, The Lottery, and the first few paragraphs of the story. The title leads the reader to imagine that the lottery, just like other lotteries, is a beneficial and positive competition that possibly ends with someone winning an award. However, we later learn that the title was ironic, and the lottery was a competition that ended with the unlucky winner being stoned. The first few paragraphs ironically describe a day that is largely beautiful and normal, with the sun shining on the blossoming flowers and richly green grass that tricks the reader into thinking that the lottery would be a beautiful event that would end with the coronation of the winner. However, this is a false depiction as the events are seen to change at the end with everyone fearing that they might be the winners of the lottery. In doing this, the author illustrates to the audience, how society is masked, making it appear good, while it is indeed evil. The individuals in the society are okay when someone else is used as a scapegoat since they believe that that will increase their agricultural yields.

It is ironical how everyone in this town appears to be caring. The author presents a scene where there is a roll call to ensure that no one missed the lottery and that all had equal chances. At first, since the reader imagines that a lottery is a beneficial event, the idea of equity is pleasing. The reader, however, comes to learn that it was just a way of ensuring that everyone had an equal chance of losing the lottery, and consequently their life. This illustrates how everyone in the town is eager to reduce their chances of losing, by ensuring that the loss is distributed across a larger number of people. Everyone wants anyone but themselves to be the scapegoat. The people are blinded by culture and mob thinking and only try their luck, not to be the scapegoat instead of doing away with the practice altogether. Mob thinking is seen to engulf reason since people behave the way the group they are in dictates.

It is ironic how Tessie Hutchinson protests the outcome of the lottery and considers it unfair, just because she is the loser. She even complains that her husband was not given enough time to make a choice. This is despite the fact that she had been seen encouraging her husband when he was picking his paper and did not complain at that time. It was ironic because if she had not been the loser, she would have considered the lottery fair and even gone ahead to pick up stones and participate in the annual stoning as was the norm. This illustrates how no one wants to be the victim, but no one has a problem when someone else is and also, no one else complains about the lottery being unfair, even Bill or the children. The stoning of Tessie also reveals that no single person is innocent in the society, as we see the youngest son of the Hutchinsons, Davy, holding stones ready to stone his mother.

There is irony in the statement made by Warner, the old man. He explains that the plan by a neighboring village to abandon the lottery will return the village to the time when they were living as barbarians. It is ironic because the lottery is itself barbaric since it promotes the victimization and eventual stoning of innocent people who are unlucky to lose in the lottery. The lottery had been passed on by previous generations meaning it was a practice of the past. It is thus ironic to suggest that abandoning such a rite was barbaric when the rite itself is barbaric. Jackson reveals the ugly truth about how society continues to be stuck on culture and traditions that are harmful to the society. She depicts society as evil as it justifies the use of people as victims through the use of mimetic violence. Society is also portrayed as static since the villagers are seen to oppose the idea of abandoning the stoning ceremony.

Finally, it is ironic how, Delacroix, who is initially seen as a great friend to Tessie changes at the end. The author notes that she selects a very large stone that she even has to pick up with both of her hands as she proceeds to stone Tessie. It is a clear illustration of how culture and mob psychology blinds people, making them turn against anyone (Yildirim 87)

In the end, then, Jackson successfully uses irony to reveal the victimization that happens in the society and how innocent people are used as scapegoats for culture being the tool that propagates the evil acts. The true meaning of the story is revealed through the use of irony and ironic statements.

Works Cited

Yildirim, Ahmet. "Blind Adherence to Traditions in" The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson." (2014).

Zhu, Yuhan. "Ironies in the Lottery." Studies in Literature and Language 6.1 (2013): 35.

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