Fat Books & Thin Women


Story Sundays: Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Each Sunday I write about a short story available online. If you read the story, please add your thoughts in the comments!


Any education in American short fiction would be incomplete without a reading of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” first published in The New Yorker in 1948.

Jackson’s story takes place over an hour or two in a small town of 300 people, gathered for the annual lottery. Jackson doesn’t overwhelm the reader with description or background; what we can gather from the story is that the lottery is an annual tradition linked in people’s minds to the quality of the year’s crops. Some towns have recently discontinued their own lotteries, but with a sense of tradition and the inevitable, the lottery continues in the town of Jackson’s story.

Years ago, when I first read “The Lottery”, I was frustrated by this lack of background information. I didn’t like the story, and didn’t get what all the fuss was about. On rereads, though, the slow build to the inevitable end of the story is almost excruciating, heightened because Jackson (like Carol Emshwiller, author of the story I wrote about last Sunday) knows when to give more detail and when to leave it to the reader.

You can read “The Lottery” in a scanned edition of the 1948 New Yorker. If that doesn’t work, there is a typo-riddled version available here.

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8 Comments

We read this story for my Fiction class a couple of weeks ago, and I loved it. I kept wondering what the Lottery was about, and I was completely shocked by the ending. I immediately reread it, and all the subtle hints suddenly became clearer. :)

Comment by Darlyn

yeah, i think it’s better on a reread. the first time i read it i was just kind of “meh” about the whole story and didn’t understand why it’s considered such a classic.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Shirley Jackson is just amazing. I am just so sad that it’s rather hard to find a lot of her works!

Comment by She

it surprises me a little how, for a reader of short stories, it’s possible to hear so much about jackson but only regarding this one story. i have a collection of her works back home but you’re right, i don’t see her work a lot or hear a lot about her, so it’s easy for her to fall to the back burner.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Loved this story! The end was shocking, which I loved because so many stories are predictable.

Comment by Ashley

the first time i read the story i was kind of put off by the tone, which doesn’t suggest what’s about to come…but like you write, that tone really adds to the whole, because the ending is so surprising. even though i knew what would happen when i reread this, i was shocked by the way jackson manages to close the story.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

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Just read this one – creepy! I love the lack of detail. I liked piecing together the time and place.

Loved it!

Comment by Jillian ♣




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