"the Lottery" By Shirley Jackson

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"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

Frist Part

In 1948, The New Yorker published the most controversial short story in its history. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, a 31-year-old wife and mother living in Vermont. The simply told tale covers a ritual lottery in a sunny, rural town. But what starts out bathed in warmth and charm grows eerier and eerier, until the horrific purpose of the lottery is revealed in the story's final paragraphs. Soon after the piece was published, angry letters poured in to The New Yorker. Readers canceled their subscriptions. And while many claimed they didn't understand the story, the intense reaction indicated they understood it all too well.

Good or bad, “The Lottery” had everyone talking. Shirley Jackson had made a name for herself in fiction. Her publisher, Farrar Strauss, hurried to capitalize on the buzz by publishing a collection of her work, The Lottery and Other Stories.

Shirley Jackson was not the kind of person you'd expect to be a literary firebrand. Shy and high-strung, she dropped out of the University of Rochester in 1935. Her second stab at school was more successful. At age 20, she enrolled at Syracuse University, where she met her future husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman. Together, they published a short-lived literary magazine called The Spectre.

“The Lottery” was published at a time when America was scrambling for conformity. Following World War II, the general public wanted to leave behind the horrors of war and genocide. They craved comfort, normalcy, and old-fashioned values. Jackson's story was a cutting commentary on the dangers of blind obedience to tradition, and she threw it, like a grenade, into a complacent post-war society.

Second Part

After graduating from Syracuse, the two got married and moved to New York City, where Jackson gave birth to the first of her four children. Soon after, in 1945, Hyman got a job teaching at Bennington College in Vermont. The family moved to North Bennington, a tiny, rural town that later became the setting for “The Lottery.” While Stanley taught, Jackson wrote. She penned a few offbeat stories for The New Yorker, but mostly she produced mainstream pieces for women's periodicals such as Good Housekeeping and Ladies' Home Journal. After several years of living in Vermont, Jackson had another child and was carrying a third. From a distance, her life seemed tranquil and wholesome. But something darker was brewing inside.

On a sunny June day in 1948, while taking a long walk, that darkness emerged. Several months pregnant and pushing a baby carriage loaded with groceries, Jackson found the trip more difficult than she'd anticipated. The entire time, she couldn't stop thinking about the book her husband had shown her on ancient rites of human sacrifice.

As soon as Jackson got home, she wrote the 3,378 words of “The Lottery.” It took her just two hours, and seemed to flow out of her nearly perfect. “Except for one or two minor corrections,” she remembered later, “It needed no changes.”

Her husband quickly recognized the story was genius, and Jackson sent it ...
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