The use of Irony and its conventional associations eludes the reader from interpreting a story as a Romance, but instead give the reader a reversed twist. This use of ironic convention in literary work is seen through Shirley Jackson’s short Story, The Lottery; the story’ of Testis Hutchinson, stoned to death after winning her village’s annual lottery. Thus, The Lottery, according to Northrop Fryer’s literary model, is a Satire/Elroy. Jackson’s use of The Lottery as both the title and event, along with its conventional associations is ironically reversed in the end.
A lottery, according to Webster Dictionary, is a procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among a group of people by lot or by chance are distributed o the winners among persons buying a chance (Webster Dictionary). The lucky winner of the lottery reaps the benefit of his/her luck and wins the prize of whatever being drawn. The lottery within the story, however, is of a different intention, whereby the winner of the lottery receives the prize Of death. The story main character and lottery winner, Mrs..
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Hutchinson, is brutally stoned to death by the rest of the village as a result of an annual tradition for the well being of a bountiful harvest. The irony that resides within the lottery remains evident for the reason that the winner of the tottery still remains a loser. Mrs.. Hutchinson is the ultimate loser, for her prize is the taking away of her life. In most lotteries, only one winner is chosen leaving the rest as losers in jealousy and awe. In this predicament, however, Mrs.. Hutchinson winning ticket, ironically making her the ultimate loser, despite her favorable luck, leaving everyone else as the ultimate winners.
The Lottery is an ironic mess, because the natural response to winning this lottery is grim. Participants of a lottery want to win for a chance of a new life and a new beginning. However, in this story, the villagers refuse winning, cause the wonderful prize waiting for the winner is bleak??a very cruel death. Jackson uses a romantic setting ironically all throughout, up to the horrible and unexpected ending. The Story begins with a setting described as: “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full- summer day” (Jackson 875).
This description is fitting to Fryer’s explanation of the literary cycle, where the repetition in nature consists of all the elements of a Romance. The concept of repetition and recurrence (according to Frye) is evident in all forms of literature (Frye 19). A statement from Fryer’s The Singing School says: In nature the most obvious repeating or recurring feature is the cycle. The sun travels across the sky into the dark and comes back again; the seasons go from spring to winter and back to spring again; water goes from springs or fountains to the sea and back again in rain.
Human life goes from childhood to death and back again in new birth. (Frye 18-19) Jackson’s descriptions of the bright and perfect setting in the beginning of the story all connect to Fryer’s conventional associations with Romance. The concepts of summer, sun, and ‘Excavator of a full-summer day’ all suit the idea of the “ideal world”, where everything is at its zenith. This perfect setting of the Romantic archetype can only lead to the atrocious story ending that completely opposes its bright and perfect beginning.
The Romantic convention, (according to Fryer’s literary cycle) sits superior to the Satire/Elroy below it, and therefore, Frye suggests that this Romantic beginning can Only lead to an ironic/satiric ending. The use of specific characters and names in the story reflect the overall convention of Satire/Elroy. Mr.. Summers, for example is a man that organizes the annual tradition of the village’s lottery. The name “Summers” has strong invitational associations with Fryer’s convention of Romance, and is a suitable name for such suitable setting.
Furthermore, his physical appearance, too, matches this convention; Jackson describes him “in his clean white shirt and blue jeans, he seemed very proper and important” (Jackson 876). Mr.. Summers, the organizer in charge of the lottery, in essence, oversees death. His actions of making the slips of paper for the lottery make him the bringer of death, determining the fate of the next winning candidate of the lottery. “Summers”, a name so fitting of happiness and zenith, ironically comes the taker of life, which fulfils an ironic literary example of one of Jackson’s characters.
The concept of the innocence of children contains the conventional association of Satire/Elroy. According to literature, children are perceived to be innocent until exposed to the harsh realities of the world, where their maturity develops and the loss of innocence is achieved. The children in this story, however, appear as regular children in the beginning, with the normal intentions of playtime and fun. Jackson even describes Bobby Martin, a child of the village, stuffing his pocket full of stones with other boys allowing his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest ones (875).
These actions seem like simple child’s play at first, as all children did collect stones and rocks in one point of their childhood. It is not until later in the story, though, does the reader find out that these rocks are intended for the stoning Of the next lottery winner. Children are perceived to be harmless and innocent of sin at such a young age, but the ironic reversal in this story makes them sinners, contradicting literature’s perception that children are supposed to be innocent.
The loss of innocence and cruelty already embedded in the hillier preparing to stone the victor of the lottery shows the Irony of Jackson’s characters. Old Man Warner, another of Jackson’s important characters, is another example of Irony. He is a figurative character that represents the “old wise man” in literature. Being the aged man that he is, he has acquired wisdom and experience over the years, making him the wisest among the villagers, with the current lottery being held as his seventy-seventh year participating.
Old Man Warner, however, supports the lottery and thinks it is a tradition, saying: “There’s always been a lottery” (879). The irony behind his character is his incapability to help Mrs.. Hutchinson in her time of sorrow because of his ignorance. His name, ‘Warner”, when broken down, translates to “warn-her”, an action so fitting to a typical Romantic convention. Moreover, Old Man Warder’s ignorance does not aid Mrs.. Hutchinson situation, but makes it worse as he encourages people to stone her, saying: “come on, come on, everyone” (881).
The ironic twist embedded on this wise sage becomes an insightful example of the Irony of the characters. A further example of Irony within Jackson’s cast of characters is Mrs.. Dielectric. Figuratively, the name “Dielectric” is French, meaning “of the cross”, which is a symbol of the Christian faith??the cross in which Jesus died on. Mrs.. Dielectric, one of Mrs.. Hutchinson friends, ironically becomes her enemy, deceiving her friendship, and at the end of the story, betrays her and stones her to death. At the beginning of the story, she appears to be a loyal and trustworthy friend to Mrs.. Hutchinson.
After finding out about the winner of the lottery, however, Mrs.. Dielectric becomes spiteful and unforgiving. She begins to deceit Mrs.. Hutchinson and begins to get the crowd involved and eddied for the stoning of her fellow friend. She even ends up afflicting the worst damage, carrying up the biggest rock, Of which she carried with two hands (881 Such religiously named character becomes one of the evilest of all, fulfilling the Ironic association with Jackson’s character. The religious name, “Of the cross”, is a Satiric representation turning it against Christianity; poking fun at religion and society.
This strong Satiric/ Ironic reference to religion and faith has become the evil that damages Mrs.. Hutchinson and the village. Religion and faith work together to help one enhance spiritual strength from sin and evil, but in this case, these two beliefs have become the influences for Mrs.. Dielectric’s motives. This Ironic and Satiric reversal turns Christianity upon itself from being the ultimate savior, to becoming the ultimate form of evil within the story. Nonetheless, Mr.. Graves, becomes a suitable representation of Jackson’s use of ironic characters.
The name “Graves” compliments this character’s actions with the evidence Of Mr.. Graves, helping Mr.. Summers make the slips Of paper (876). Upon Mrs.. Hutchinson stoning, Mr.. Graves, in the front of the crowd, verses the sacrifice, thus becoming the bringer of death. The lottery, being a long-time tradition, slowly loses the meaning behind its purpose, similar to modern day society. The annual arrival of the village’s lottery becomes habitual. Jackson describes it as: ‘the people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions” (878).
This description of the repeated event strongly relates to Fryer’s convention of Satire/Elroy; the villagers routinely decide to participate in the lottery because they have grown accustomed to this tradition. Old Man Warner negative reaction upon earning of the extermination of the lottery becomes reasonable as he states that the villages who gave up the lottery are a “pack of crazy fools” (878). This becomes a reasonable response because to the villagers, the notion of a lottery has always been there, Old Man Warner saying, ‘there’s always been a lottery” (879).
The thought of removing such an old tradition and custom from the village would be like taking the celebration of Christmas from today’s Christian society. Old Man Warder’s statement: “Sided to be a saying about Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”, is an indirect reference to the purpose of he annual lottery (879), This old saying that is no longer in use, for the purpose of the tradition has been forgotten because the villagers had done it so many times. This loss of purpose and meaning is similar to society today.
Many people have forgotten the true meaning and symbolism behind religious traditions, such as the significance present giving during Christmas or the actual religious event in which Easter is based on. Satirically speaking, the lottery becomes a mirror to modern society today, fulfilling the Satiric/ Ironic action of mocking at the world and society. The many different examples of ironies such as the name of the lottery and its conventional associations, along with the cast of ironic characters and satirical relationship with society, truly compliment this story as a Satire/Elroy.
This parody of Romance not only teases us, but also mirrors society. From the Irony of a lottery to the Satire of its significance, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson becomes a manipulated version of the “ideal world”. This inferiority to the convention of Romance easily becomes a travesty. It further surpasses the convention of a Tragedy turning it to a nightmare where the worst of the resort is likely to happen. The Lottery, as exciting and thrilling its notion may be at first, remains the same in the end due to the Ironic and Satiric reversals revealed.
A lottery is a gamble and a risk, one that is of slim chances. It is game that many people play and desire to win, where the greatest irony becomes the notion of winning above the slightest of odds.