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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Reader-Response Criticism of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

  When I first read up to the middle part of the “The Lottery,” I never sensed anything wrong.  Thus, I had an initial opinion that it was all about an ordinary lottery. However, towards its end, I sensed that something was not right, although I could not pinpoint what. Hence, I read it again, and started to underline the specific parts which I knew had something to do directly with the story’s negative touch, most especially the line Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded… Due to the word “ritual,” I knew something was just not right. But since I still could not grasp exactly the whole story, I read it again, and that third time, my emotions started to rise, and I focused on these emotions actively, giving direct meaning to what was mentioned in R. S. Crane’s book Critics and Criticism “Since emotions are produced, not from mere opinions, but from opinions actively entertained (Crane 57)…” 

          Furthermore, I found myself reacting differently to the line said by the character Old Man Warner: Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon’… It was then clear to me that the lottery was directly connected to the villagers’ successful planting and harvesting of crops. While reading on the third instance, I made inferences, filled in gaps, and made interpretive decisions in the exact terms pockets full of stones/ planting and rain/ piles of stones/ ritual/ black box/ square/ post office/ bank/ school/ three hundred people/ tractors/ taxes/ square dances/ teen club/ Halloween program and had descriptive and figurative imagery as my bases for my inferential guesses regarding each term’s major role in the story. 

          I responded positively to the main character Mr. Summers even if the macabre angle already became clear to me. He was just doing his job as administrator of the lottery. Nevertheless, I felt bad for all of the villagers for having that ritual. Concurrently, I also felt scornful for those few who had the desire of ending the lottery but would not do anything to do so. "They do say," Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner… "that over in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery." And also this line "Some places have already quit lotteries," Mrs. Adams said. I strongly believe that those lines showed such few people’s desire to end the lottery, referring that they should follow what the others have already done. Subsequently, with regard to the lottery winner, Mrs. Hutchinson, I felt pity for her though she was considered a hero by her fellow villagers for sacrificing her life for the good of all. 

         The speaker or the narrator did a good job in slowly enfolding the morbid twist in the plot even if it took me three reading times to be able to finally grasp its creepy entirety. On one hand, the places in the text that caused me to do serious thinking were the description of the setting: The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. Meaning, the village had full capability of having a good harvest, thus the highly possible scrapping of that ritual. Meanwhile, the line Every year…Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but… the subject was allowed to fade off without anything's being done. The villagers seemed not very interested in making the lottery better, meaning, there was a chance that nobody in that village was a hundred percent agreeable to their ritual, even if it has always been believed to bring in a good harvest yearly. However, in the line …but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box, it made it clear that majority of those in that village wanted the ritual to continue. 

          Lastly, as a reader, I typically read literary work more than once because I cannot immediately get the full meanings of the figurative context at first. Plus, I believe in the opinion “The creative writer does the same as the child at play. He creates a world of fantasy which he takes very seriously…while separating it sharply from reality (Lodge 36).” Other kids sharply understand children’s stories right away while others need to re-read them. I am like the latter kids, I have to re-read. Then, my reading gets clearer the second time, and clearest the third, or more, time. In this regard, I account for the differences by underlining the words or lines which I feel have direct connections to the overall essentiality. All in all, I try my best to pattern my reading to what the book Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism mentions:              
             Reading reflects the structure of experience to the extent that we must suspend            
             the ideas and attitudes that shape our own personality before we can
             experience the unfamiliar world of the literary text. But, during this process,  
             something happens to us. This “something” needs to be looked at in detail,  
             especially as the incorporation of the unfamiliar is labeled as the identification of            
             the reader with what he reads (Tompkins 65).

         As a believer of the various local lotteries myself, not only for end-result of giving a much better life to the winners and their respective families but also for the different charitable institutions that benefit from the ticket sales, I am aware that as I was reading the story, I put myself into the shoes of the characters, being excited for them to win, during the first time I read the story. But as the plot’s creepiness manifested itself in my two subsequent readings, the aforementioned excitement turned into my being sorry for them. Conclusively, I strongly believe that the involved story, “The Lottery…first published on June 26, 1948, issue of The New Yorker… Written the same month it was published… is ranked today as "one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature (Wikipedia)” really deserves the said recognition. --ARV

1. Photocopied handouts
2. Books:
Crane, Ronald S. Critics and Criticism. Chicago: The University of Chicago                
             Press. 1957. 57
Lodge, David. 20th Century Literary Criticism. London: Longman Group Limited.     
            1972. 36.

Tompkins, Jane P. Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism.               
            USA: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1980. 65

3. Internet:

The Lottery. 27 January 2011 . Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 29 January 2011

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