Study Questions for “The Lottery” (Shirley Jackson, 1948)

Study Questions for “The Lottery” (Shirley Jackson, 1948)

  • What is the significance of choosing a small town as the setting for “The Lottery”? How is it described in the opening paragraph of the story? Why is it unnamed?
  • What could be the significance of the summer season for the story? What is the significance of the date “June 27th”? [Suggested text: J. Yarmove's Jackson's "The lottery". Explicator (1994), 52, 242-245]
  • How does Shirley Jackson prepare the reader for the main theme of the story in the second and the third paragraphs? For example, what could be the reason for an emphasis on the name “Delacroix”? What could Bobby Martin’s surname signify? [Suggested reading: Helen E. Nebeker's "The Lottery": Symbolic Tour de Force in American Literature, Mar1974, Vol. 46 Issue 1]
  • What is the symbolic value of the stones?
  • What do Mr. Summers, Mr. Graves and Mr. Martin represent in the story?
  • Discuss the symbolic value of the three legged-stool and the black box?
  • What does Old Man Warner represent in the story?
  • What is the significance of the surname “Hutchinson”?
  • What does the lottery mean to the townspeople in the story? Do they all have the same reaction? Do they question their obedience? Why? Why not? Provide examples.
  • What could be the significance of the 3rd person narration in “The Lottery”? What could be the impact of this on the readers?
  • What does the story reveal about the place of men and women in this small town? Give specific examples from the story
  • What critique of capitalism does the story seem to be offering?
  • What does the story’s title reveal about our everyday lives?
  • What does the story reveal about human nature?
  • What makes the ending of the story so shocking?
  • Identify examples of irony in the story and discuss them.
  • Read Shirley Jackson’s husband Stanley Edgar Hyman’s comment on Jackson and discuss how “The Lottery” reflects the historical context of its times: “Her fierce visions of dissociation and madness, of alienation and withdrawal, of cruelty and terror, have been taken to be personal, even neurotic, fantasies.  Quite the reverse: they are a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the Bomb.” [as cited in Joan Wylie Hall's Fallen Eden in Shirley Jackson's The Road Through The Wall, REN, 46.4, Summer 1994, p. 265]

Listen to the story.

© Ali Nihat Eken, İstanbul, May 2009

4 thoughts on “Study Questions for “The Lottery” (Shirley Jackson, 1948)

    • Answers for this and all other study guides can be reached through thoughtful analysis. Questions are designed to incite critical thinking, to make students think on their own. Anyone who demands instant answers regarding literature misses the entire point of the literary work in the first place.

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