Baylor College Medical School
THE LOTTERY by Shirley Jackson We never learn where the town is located nor its name. Why has Jackson left out these seemingly significant details?
The suburban setting of "The Lottery" is important. It was modeled after the Vermont community in which Jackson herself spent much of her adult life. The town in which the lottery takes place is described as an ordinary and pleasant community. The children eagerly anticipate summer and play with one another. "[T]hey tended to gather together for a while before they broke into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands" (211). The adults are congenial and amiable. "[The women] greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands" (211). People are aware of others' activities or illnesses, and they generally provide support for others. For example, a young man drawing for the first time elicits the following: "Don't be nervous, Jack ... Take your time, son" (216). The above details establish the setting of "The Lottery" as a pleasant, conventional town, the inhabitants of which are generally friendly and kind.
However, the setting is deeply ironic, for it serves to highlight the hypocrisy, brutality, and perhaps even inherent evil of human nature, or at least this town and nearby towns, even after centuries of supposed civilization. Initially, the reader has no idea what the lottery truly entails, which is a sanitized ritual in brutality. The lottery results in the "winner" being stoned to death by the townspeople. They otherwise appear to be normal, not murderous, but this is just what they do every so often. In contrast to the true nature of the lottery and Mrs. Hutchinson's murder, the atmosphere of the village is seemingly idyllic. As a result, the inhumanity of the townspeople is brought out in sharp relief against the setting of "The Lottery." The setting is thus ironic because the otherwise normal town is the location of senseless murder.