"'Maybe there'll be a law not to live in houses, so then no one can hide from anyone else, you see.'"
This is what Eileen says to the intoxicated guest at her parents' party, when they discuss the future of the world. Eileen envisions the future destruction of the world and believes that the constructs of civilization will be eliminated, in favor of a society in which people can no longer live in houses.
This line clearly indicates the significance Jackson's stories attach to the home and its connection with identity. The home is tied to identity in that it provides not only security, but also a cover. People can hide their true motivations, their true lifestyles and desires, behind the walls of their homes. Thus, homes contain people's true identities. The loss of home can correspond to the loss of identity, as seen in "Like Mother Used to Make," but also reveal the tenuousness of one's grasp upon individuality.
"The bright sunlight across Mrs. Nash's kitchen doorway, the solid table bearing its plates of doughnuts, the pleasant smell of the frying, were all symbols somehow of Mrs. Nash's safety, her confidence in a way of life and a security that had no traffic with chicken-killing, no city fears ..."
In "The Renegade," Mrs. Walpole envies the domestic bliss and simplicity of Mrs. Nash's life. Jackson depicts a seemingly idyllic scene of country life and female domesticity. However, the fact that Mrs. Walpole must deal with the issue of dead chickens and potentially killing the family dog indicates that, even beneath such an idealistic scene, evil and human brutality lurk. In Jackson's experience living in rural Vermont, such evil might have been considered more common or even unique to city life. However, Jackson's stories, set in such ordinary towns and villages across America, indicate that human inclinations towards violence, brutality, and even murder are not exclusive to city dwellers.
"'I want you to get hold of yourself. In a disoriented world like ours today, alienation from reality frequently - "
In "Colloquy," this is what the doctor tells Mrs. Arnold, which does not help reassure her about her husband or the world in general. First, this quote perhaps explains the behavior of other Jackson protagonists, most notably the narrator of "The Daemon Lover" or the titular character of "Elizabeth." These women, who find themselves in a disoriented world, indeed succumb to their fantasies and are separated from reality. For Mrs. Arnold, however, these seemingly overcomplicated and impersonal tones contribute to the disorientation of the world. The doctor's clinical and inhuman description serves only to reinforce her sense that the world is falling apart.
"... also, the apartment was created and planned for Elizabeth; that is, the hurried departure every morning of a rather unhappy and desperate young woman with little or no ability to make things gracious."
This quote describes many of Jackson's protagonists, not only in this collection, but also in The Haunting of Hill House. These lonely, unmarried women are most susceptible to blurring the distinction between reality and fantasy. Their desperate unhappiness is manifested in the appearance of their homes, which (once again) is related to identity.
"She looked longingly at the cigar store on the opposite corner, with her apartment house beyond; she wondered, How do people ever manage to get there, and knew that by wondering, by admitting a doubt, she was lost."
This quotation describes Margaret in "Pillar of Salt." It also highlights the significance of the home to one's identity. Margaret's experience in New York wholly changes her. Accustomed to living in the country, she finds herself overwhelmed by the pace and impersonality of city life and begins to question her own sanity. When Margaret falsely believes that her building is on fire, she loses confidence in her perception of reality. She grows more paranoid, perceiving imminent danger in such simple acts as crossing the street. This loss of confidence in her ability to differentiate reality from fantasy, her fears, her loss of self, are manifested in her inability to return to her home.
"Or maybe he just got [the letter] and said, Oh, from Jimmy, and threw it in his brief case and forgot it. I'll murder him if he did, she thought, I'll bury him in the cellar."
In "Got a Letter from Jimmy," Jackson offers a glimpse of the unexpected brutality to be unleashed in the next, final short story in the collection, "The Lottery." Over a seemingly ordinary meal with her husband, a wife actually harbors murderous thoughts. The scene set by Jackson is easily identifiable to most readers, but she jars the illusion of domestic happiness by revealing the narrator's unseemly thirst for murder.
"... the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner."
At the beginning of "The Lottery," Jackson gives no hint at all of the mindless brutality to follow in the short story. This description of the lottery leads the reader to believe that this is a mundane occasion, one that can be fit into a short amount of time and allow the participants to resume their normal lives without special comment. However, when the reader realizes what the lottery entails, this detail heightens the horror. The villagers are so complacent and unthinking that they regard the premeditated execution of one of their own as an ordinary event. Conformity, tradition, and habit have rendered the villagers unaware of their own inhumane evil.
"Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones."
This sentence neatly encapsulates the full extent of the villagers' mindless cruelty. They have forgotten the less horrific and murderous aspects of the lottery and do not care about its niceties. Instead, the villagers are focused on the end result, which is to kill one of their own, for no reason. Jackson thus depicts the villagers' ability to discard the pretensions of civilization in such situations and opt instead for mindless brutality.
"Mrs. Tylor recognized finally the faint nervous feeling that was tagging her; it was the way she felt when she was irrevocably connected with something dangerously out of control ..."
In "Of Course," Mrs. Tylor eagerly befriends her new neighbors, only to discover that they are not people with whom she would ordinarily like to be acquainted. However, due to the unspoken restrictions of suburban conformity, she is unable to express her true feelings. Mrs. Tylor realizes that she has been caught in the societal trap of politeness and conformity, which are "dangerously out of control" and suppress individuality.
"Her tooth, which had brought her here unerringly, seemed now the only part of her to have any identity. It seemed to have had its picture taken without her; it was the important creature which must be recorded and examined and gratified; she was only its unwilling vehicle ..."
Clara Spencer's loss of identity, and correspondingly her loss of sanity, can be traced mainly to this moment in her experience in New York. Nearly driven mad with pain, Clara is confused by lack of sleep and medication when she begins to hallucinate about Jim Harris. Not possessing a solid identity allows Jackson protagonists to slip into alternate realities and fantasies, where they feel happier and more cherished.
The Lottery and Other Stories Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Lottery and Other Stories is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.