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Ironic Joy in “The Lottery”

By Avery King, III Form

Ironic Joy in “The Lottery”

Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery,” uses juxtaposition to show the town’s darkness through the beautiful summer day, the contrast of character’s names, and the difference in behavior between the adults and the children. “The Lottery” begins with a description of the beautiful summer day, which makes the reader assume that a joyful event will take place. The setting of summer implies a sense of hope and happiness because the day “[w]as clear and sunny with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green” (Jackson 1). Often, the setting reflects the content of a story, but this is not true here. The characters’ names also show a contrast between darkness and light, for the name Mr. Summers is almost always closely followed by the name Mr. Graves to remind the reader that not everything is as light and good as it may seem. When Mr. Summers makes his first entrance with the black box, Mr. Graves comes in closely behind: “The postmaster, Mr. Graves, follow[s] him, carrying a three-legged stool, and the stool is placed in the center of the square, and Mr. Summers set[s] the black box down on it” (Jackson 1). Jackson deliberately chooses the last names of the characters to reflect the irony of the event. While the summer is supposed to be jovial, something grave and dark can ruin it. This “dark event” is precisely what happens to the town every summer when the Lottery occurs. Concurrently, before the town convenes for the Lottery, the children are happily running and playing because it is summertime and they are innocent. As the adults filter into the scene wearing somber expressions, the mood changes, and one begins to wonder why they are so sad while the children are happily collecting stones. In fact, “Bobby Martin ha[s] already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon [follow] his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones” (Jackson 1). While initially, the stone collection appears to be a fun game, the stones ultimately are used as weapons against Mrs. Hutchinson.  Jackson contrasts innocence with harm and evil, even when initially it seems harmless. Jackson’s purpose is to show that everything has a balance in contrast. Through the description of the beautiful summer day, the contrast in the characters’ names, and the children’s game, Jackson shows that this Lottery is a corrupt event, for even the happiest of moments can contain darkness. Contrast allows Jackson to convey that the Lottery is not something to be celebrated. 

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