Over a meal with a male companion, presumably her husband, the narrator learns that he received a letter from someone named Jimmy. The male companion and Jimmy experienced some sort of falling out previously, and the narrator wants to know what the letter says. However, her husband tells her that he will send the letter back to Jimmy, leaving it unopened.
The narrator attempts to coerce her husband to open the letter from Jimmy, while internally, she is intensely curious about its contents. She attempts to curb herself so that she does not push the issue with her husband too far. However, the narrator’s internal thoughts border upon homicidal: “I’ll murder him” (209), she thinks, if her husband forgets about the letter. She asks if he will show the letter to John, and the narrator, consumed by this petty falling out, is ecstatic that her husband shares her interest in the situation. To test his resolve to show the letter to John, the narrator reminds him of his original intention to throw away the letter. When her husband remembers this, he returns to his first plan to throw away the letter. The narrator becomes privately furious and vows to bash her husband’s head in and bury him in the cellar, with the letter under his hands.
This very brief story sets up the atmosphere for "The Lottery" very well, juxtaposing murderous evil and sinister intentions within a seemingly harmless domestic setting. In this story, the narrator shares a meal with her husband and chats with him, seemingly innocuously. Internally, however, the narrator expresses her vicious desire to kill him. This scene from "Got a Letter from Jimmy" foreshadows the last and titular story of the collection.
Frighteningly, the husband is completely unaware of the narrator's growing intent to kill him and bury him in the cellar, which is ironic as the narrator continues to carry on a seemingly ordinary conversation with him. The dramatic irony of the story is that the reader is aware of the narrator's murderous inner dialogue, while her husband remains ignorant of it. The narrator appears to behave and to speak normally, while her inner thoughts are anything but normal. "Stacking the dishes in the kitchen, she thought, Maybe he means it, maybe he could kill himself first ... I'll murder him ... I'll bury him in the cellar" (209).
Jackson also touches upon the theme of insanity in the opening lines. "Sometimes ... I wonder if men are quite sane, any of them. Maybe they're all just crazy and every other woman knows it but me ..." (208). This thought of the narrator is ironic, too, for she reveals in the story that perhaps she is the mentally unstable character, given her murderous tendencies. Her husband's behavior does not indicate any insanity.
The true horror of this story stems from the fact that the narrator's motivation to kill her husband seems relatively inconsequential. She simply wants her husband to provide her with gossip about his feud with someone named Jimmy (presumably, a James Harris). First, murder is generally considered to be unacceptable in any situation. Second, the motivation suggested here is so unworthy (the narrator's desire for gossip) that it warrants no desire to kill one’s own husband.
The reader might assume that the character of "Jimmy" stands for James Harris, because the only characters named Jim in this collection are always James Harris. Furthermore, Harris is a harbinger of malice and evil, which exists here in the narrator's desire to murder her husband. Again, this placing of murderous intent (and potential action) within a seemingly mundane, domestic setting foreshadows the themes evident in "The Lottery."