Suspense is a writing style that challenges the expectations of the reader. In fiction, it creates tension for the reader […] the tension is between the known and the unknown. ( Klismith 2014.p.1) Mostly, the story unfolds to a great twist at the end that comes as a surprise to the reader even though some foreshadowing has been done. The Lottery is a short story by Shirley Jackson is a short story of this sort. It’s suspenseful end not only twists the general expectations of the reader but also serves as irony to the title of the story, The Lottery. Traditionally, the winner of any lottery gets gifts and bonuses that make them feel proud but, in The lottery, the winner tends to be an unlucky loser who is supposed to be stoned to death as a traditional practice by the villagers. This particular end, which causes internal conflict to the reader, opens up a range of ideas that may give a solution to the conflict. It replaces the pleasure of the unknown with the pleasures of security. (Baxter 2008.p.38)
This extended story of The Lottery is a result of the reader’s attempt to explain the reason why the Lottery was so important to the villagers; why did the villagers follow the practice even after so many years? It tries to explain why they did not think to stop the tradition as the other people did; why did the villagers look forward to the next lottery day even though it resulted to the death of a villager? It also tries to bring in civilisation and reasoning as the people are governed by mob psychology.
The townspeople did not forget about the told stories of Crazy Jane, the woman who did not stone her husband. It was said that she ran madly the same night and no medicine man could treat her. It was this same story that made Bill pick up five, hand-sized rocks and tossed it to his wife. He was afraid to become crazy as he still had three kids to raise. He then stood aloof and waited for the end. ” He seems to enjoy this!” He thought loudly.
“You too noticed that? ” asked Bill.Jr. He was just from hitting his mother with pebbles and he could not forgive himself.
“You don’t have to see this. Go take your sister and brother home. I will be there soon.” Bill said to his son. He had to stay back till the end where he would be allowed to carry his wife’s corpse for burial. Bill.Jr rushed to the mob and pulled Nancy and little Dave. They rushed home shocked but aware that their mom was no more.
“Weird how stoning her was no fun. The rush in our blood as we plunged the stones and watched the victims wrinkle in pain was not there anymore,” he said.
“That’s because we were stoning mum. Seeing her die has changed everything.” Nancy replied.
“I do not think that this tradition is useful anymore. The way Mr Summers looks forward to every Lottery is not normal,” he shouted feeling anger burning inside him.
“Mr Warner to has witnessed the lottery seventy-seven times and never has he been picked. I think the gods are not fair!” She said.
“It really isn’t fair!” Bill.Jr yelled, stood up and looked through the window. It was almost sundown and he was sure his father was carrying their dead mum to the borders of the village. He stormed out, leaving Nancy shouting behind him, “Where are you going to? We have to stay inside!” He did not answer her.
For once in his life, Bill.Jr doubted the lottery tradition. They said stoning a person signified cleansing of the village’s evil deeds, making the corpse unclean, therefore, had to be buried outside the village. Once the evil was cleansed, they would receive bountiful harvest but he did not believe that anymore. He needed answers and so, he headed to Mr Summer’s house.
Mr Summers had just arrived from the village square and was having his evening tea. He was all alone and so it was quiet.
” Hey, come on in.” Said Mr Summers when Bill.Jr knocked. “Am sorry about your mother. She was a nice person.” He added, letting him in. Bill.Jr clenched his hands in his pocket from rage and prevented himself from striking him.
“Why do you campaign for the lottery every year? You even want a new box to be made? What is it so important to you?” He shouted at him.
” It is our tradition, boy. You know that! ” he answered.
“The people have forgotten the old ways for they no longer know the real meaning of the lottery! You do not even remember the procedures! How do you know that the harvest we get is from the sacrifices?” He yelled, tears falling down his cheeks. He looked at him, waiting for answers. ” You do not understand.” Mr Summers said, sitting down. A half smile formed on his face.
” Good gracious!” Bill.Jr said, his eyes widening upon realisation. “You, like old Warner, do not care for the people because you have no family to lose.” He said plainly. Mr Summers sipped his tea loudly and said,
“When I was young, they took my father and my brother and since then, I did everything to appease the gods but they don’t care. They gave me a scold for a wife and no kids.”
“You want everyone to experience your pain!” he asked.
“Yes, The gods do not care if you set up scapegoats to carry your sins. The good harvest will always be there and I will always be here to campaign for the next lottery. He said standing up.” People love something to look forward to.” He paused. “Now you go home and mourn your mother and dare not tell anybody or else you will be next in line.” He threatened. Bill Jr ran out of his house swearing to tell his father.
- Charles Baxter: On Defamiliarisation.2008.
- Lydia R Klismith: suspense structure and point of view: Building surprise in fiction. 2014.