“The Lottery and Other Stories” is a collection of short stories published in 1949 by Shirley Jackson. It is a collection of stories that show short glimpses into modern life. Twenty-Five stories are included in the collection including “The Lottery”.
Originally, Jackson toyed with the idea of naming the collection, “The Lottery”, or “The Adventures of James Harris”, since a character named James Harris (who may or may not be the same man) shows up in four different stories. Other characters named Harris, show up in an additional six stories.
Critics, Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas called the book: “a brilliant collection of naturalistic glimpses of a world with terrifying holes in it.”
“The Lottery”, the longest story in the book, has been described as one of the most famous short stories in American literature. After it was published in the June 26, 1948, issue of The New Yorker, subscribers had an immediate negative response to it and many canceled their subscriptions or sent hate mail to Jackson. The Union of South Africa also banned the stories publication.
“The Lottery” is about a town that gathers every year to draw lots to see which member of the town will be stoned to death.
The first story in the collection, “The Intoxicated” begins during a party in a suburban house somewhere in America. A guest wanders away from the party, ostensibly to get some air but really to sober up. He enters the kitchen where he finds the host of the party’s 17-year-old daughter, Eileen. The guest notices that Eileen is dressed down and doesn’t appear to have been at the party. She tells him that she is working on schoolwork and that she only came down to the kitchen to escape the heat upstairs.
She says that her schoolwork is a paper about the future of the world. She tells the guest that she does not believe that the world has much of a future. The guest is uncomfortable with Eileen’s earnestness and precocious attitude and, as the conversation goes on he begins to get impatient with her.
Eileen continues to talk about her version of the future of the world, which is a dystopian idea. She says that she thinks the churches will be destroyed, then the apartment buildings will slip down into the water with the people still inside. She considers whether her Latin class will be the last to enjoy the play “Caesar” before the world is destroyed. She says, in the end, there will be no houses and no schools. There will be new ways of living.
The guest dismisses her predictions as being morbid and, uneasy leaves the kitchen. Back in the party, the guest finds Eileen’s father and informs him that they just had an interesting conversation about the state of the world. The father quotes Caesar in Latin and the two commiserate over the state of America’s youth.
The Daemon Lover
This story begins with the narrator waking up in the morning and beginning preparations for her wedding day. She tells us that she is marrying a man named Jaime and is waiting for him to return to their apartment to bring her to the church. As she waits, she tries to decide what dress to wear and thinks about how the next time she comes back to this apartment it will be with her new husband.
Jaime is scheduled to retrieve her at 10 a.m. The narrator waits for her fiancee until eleven thirty when she begins to worry about him. He is now an hour and a half late.
She takes a taxi cab over to where Jaime has told her he lives but when she asks the buildings superintendent about him she is told that no one by the name of Jaime Harris lives there. The superintendent’s wife tells the narrator that Jaime may be subletting an apartment on the third floor.
The narrator goes up to the third floor and speaks to Mr. and Mrs. Royster who have recently sublet their apartment to a young man but reveal that they do not know his name. The narrator leaves the apartment building and, desperate to find her fiancee goes to the florist shop where they are supposed to be picking up their wedding flowers to ask if the florist has seen Jaime.
The florist tells her that she has not and the narrator stops at several other places around town to ask if the proprietors have seen her fiancee. Eventually, she reaches a shoeshine stand and asks the old man working there if Jaime has been by. He answers that he has and, relieved the narrator returns to her apartment, assuming that Jaime is waiting for her there.
But, finding it empty still, the narrator returns to the shoeshine stand to ask the old man again where he saw Jaime go. The old man points to the building down the street that he saw Jaime enter.
The narrator goes up to the house and finds that it seems to be abandoned. She thinks she hears a voice inside that quiets just when she knocks on the door. After knocking for a few minutes, the narrator finally opens the door and finds that the house is empty and run down. Inside a rat stares back at her with what she perceives to be an evil gaze.
The narrator thinks that she hears voices and laughter still coming from somewhere in the house. From that day onward she begins to regularly return to the house to knock and listen for the voices but no one ever answers the door.
Like My Mother Used To Make
David Turner returns home from the grocery store and begins to prepare dinner for his neighbor, Marcia who is coming to share a meal with him. David tells us that he likes to keep his apartment meticulously clean and organized and that Marcia does not. He reveals that he can barely stand to be in her apartment because of how messy it is.
Marcia arrives and they two eat dinner together. Marcia comments that she wishes she could keep her apartment as clean as David. David presents her with dessert, a cherry pie that he made himself.
After dinner, as David is clearing the table and making coffee, the doorbell rings. A man, Mr. Harris, Marcia’s co-worker arrives. As soon as Mr. Harris enters the apartment Marcia begins to act as if it were her apartment and pretends to be the one who made dinner and baked the pie. David is annoyed by this but finds that he cannot leave the dishes sitting in the sink unclean. He washes the dishes and puts them all away in their proper place. When he joins Marcia and Mr. Harris in the living room Marcia invites him to sit down in a hostess tone of voice.
David wishes to ask Marcia and Mr. Harris to leave but doesn’t have the social skills to do so. Too shy to do anything about it, David joins in on Marcia’s charade and leaves soon after dinner. She hands him the key to her apartment and reminds him not to forget “his” key. David meekly thanks Marcia for the dinner and lets himself into her dirty, cluttered apartment.
He can still hear the two conversing across the hall and, angry and miserable, he begins to clean Marcia’s apartment.
Trial By Combat
Emily Johnson is married but lives alone in an apartment in New York while her husband is away in the army. She has lived in the building for 6 weeks and has recently noticed that little things have begun to go missing from her home.
Emily does not wish to tell her landlord of this problem and assumes that she will handle it herself. Emily hypothesizes that the thief must be in the building all day while everyone else is at work. One day she catches someone exiting her apartment and decides to confront them. She follows them to their apartment and knocks on the door. An old woman named Mrs. Allen answers.
Emily is confused by the woman’s age and does not immediately confront her. She begins to chat with Mrs. Allen and learns that the woman’s husband was also in the army but died many years ago. While chatting, Emily learns that all of the keys in the building are interchangeable and that that is probably how the thief is entering her apartment. Emily leaves Mrs. Allen without confronting her and the next night returns home to find that a pair of her earrings has gone missing.
The next day, Emily remains at home, calling in sick to work and waits till Mrs. Allen leaves the building to let herself into the woman’s apartment.
Emily is struck by how similar she and Mrs. Allen’s apartments are. She finds all of her missing items set neatly in the top drawer of a dresser.
As she is surveying this, Mrs. Allen comes into the room behind her. Emily, realizing that Mrs. Allen is probably just a confused old woman, does not wish to upset her and pretends that she only entered the apartment to borrow some aspirin. Mrs. Allen lends Emily some aspirin and promises to check on her later.
Hilda Clarence is a resident of New York City who answers a newspaper ad to look at an available apartment and some furniture. When she reaches the apartment she finds a note that says that the owner, Mrs. Roberts, isn’t home but that Hilda should go inside anyway.
Hilda, a struggling dancer, does not like the apartment or the furniture but finds a book on modern dance in the house and wonders if Mrs. Roberts is a dancer, too. She discovers that Mrs. Roberts and her husband are only selling the apartment because they are moving to Paris.
A man named Harris comes into the apartment while Hilda is still there and informs her that he is responding to the ad, too. He assumes that Hilda is the owner and she does not correct him. Hilda tells him that she is a dancer and that she and her husband are moving to Paris. Harris does not find any of the furniture to his liking and soon leaves. Hilda shows him out and leaves a note for Mrs. Roberts saying that she is not interested in the furniture and leaves as well.
My Life with R.H. Macy
One of the shorter stories in the book, this story is told by an unidentified narrator who tells the reader about her first day working at Macy’s Department Store.
She is immediately put into a group of other new employees, then shuffled around and ordered about by other faceless managers. The narrator can not tell the different managers apart and identifies them all as “Miss Cooper”. The narrator receives many different sets of numbers (locker number, ID number, etc.) and feels that she is becoming a number, too.
After only two days the narrator becomes fed up with working at Macy’s and quits her job.
During a train ride a little boy named Johnny grows bored and begins to narrate his surroundings. His mother, busy with his baby sister, pays little attention to him.
Johnny tells his mother that he sees a witch outside the train. Just then, another man enters the train car and sits down across from Johnny. Johnny tells the man about the witch and the man plays along, asking Johnny about his age and about his sister. Then the man begins to tell Johnny about his own sister. He says that he murdered her and fed her body to a bear.
Johnny’s mother is horrified but Johnny takes this story in stride. Johnny’s mother berates the man and demands that he leave. As he does he shares a wink with Johnny. Johnny’s mother attempts to tell Johnny that the man was only joking and the boy wonders whether the man was a witch.
This story begins as an ordinary day in the life of a Mrs. Walpole. She wakes, readies her children for school and makers her husband breakfast. Soon after breakfast Mrs. Walpole receives a phone call informing her that her dog, Lady has killed several of the neighbors chickens. Mrs. Walpole is horrified and the neighbor informs her that he dog must be put down.
Mrs. Walpole wonders about how to proceed. She does not want to kill the dog. She goes out to take care of some errands and finds that her dog is all the town is gossiping about. Several of her neighbors give her advice on how to remedy the dog’s behavior that Mrs. Walpole finds detestable and inhumane.
When Mrs. Walpole arrives home she notices blood on Lady’s coat. Mrs. Walpole’s children return from school and with the unthinking brutality of children, suggest putting a spiked collar on Lady that will decapitate her when she goes after the chickens.
Mrs. Walpole finds herself sickened by her children’s suggestions and steps outside for air. She feels suffocated and finds herself identifying with Lady and feeling as though sharp points are closing in on her throat.
After You, My Dear Alphonse
Mrs. Wilson is baking gingerbread when her son, Johnny comes home with a friend named Boyd. Boyd is African-American. He carries firewood into the house and Mrs. Wilson scolds her son for not helping his friend.
Mrs. Wilson invites Boyd to join them for lunch and inquiries, hesitantly about his family. She asks about Boyd’s father and where he works. Johnny tells her that he works in a factory and Mrs. Wilson assumes that he works on the factory floor but is surprised to find that he’s a foreman. Mrs. Wilson asks why Boyd’s mother doesn’t work. Johnny points out that she, herself does not work either.
Boyd tells Mrs. Wilson that his sister wants to become a teacher and Mrs. Wilson acts condescendingly toward Boyd over this. She then offers him some used clothing of Johnny’s and Boyd, confused, politely declines the offer. This angers Mrs. Wilson who scolds the boy for being ungrateful and says that she is disappointed with his attitude. Boyd remains confused about Mrs. Wilson’s attitude toward him when he and Johnny go outside to play. Johnny tells him not to worry about it and the two resume playing.
This is one of the few stories in the collection that is told in the first person. It is told by a mother with a son named Laurie who is just starting kindergarten. She notices that her son has changed a bit since starting school and that he is acting more disrespectful of his parents. However, she is very amused by the stories he brings home every day of a child named Charles and his outlandish antics.
Charles becomes somewhat of a legend within the family. Later, Laurie’s mother goes to a PTA meeting and attempts to pick out Charles’ parents, only to find that she cannot spot them. She asks Laurie’s teacher about Charles and is told that there is no student with that name in the class. She is then given a report on Laurie’s behavior that matches the stories she has heard about Charles.
Afternoon in Linen
Mrs. Lennon and her granddaughter, Harriet are visited by a Mrs. Kator and her son, Howard. Everyone sits and listens while Howard plays a piece on the piano and afterward Mrs. Lennon urges Harriet to play a piece. Though she is an accomplished pianist, Harriet lies and says that she does not know anything. She knows that Mrs. Kator and her grandmother have a passive-aggressive war going on between which of the two young people is more talented.
Mrs. Lennon tells Mrs. Kator that her granddaughter writes wonderful poetry. She tells Harriet to fetch one to read aloud and Harriet refuses, thinking that Howard will tease her. Mrs. Lennon eventually recites a poem of Harriet’s and Howard teases Harriet. Outraged that her wishes were not respected, Harriet insists that she plagiarized the poems to her grandmother, embarrassing her in front of Mrs. Kator.
A woman named Mrs. Winning lives with her family in a gated community in Vermont. She is highly respected and her family well monied and established. One day, a new neighbor moves in. Mrs. Winning discovers that it is a young widow and her son. She goes to their house to greet them and finds the woman, Mrs. Maclane is very agreeable. Mrs. Maclane’s son, Davey is a nice boy who has a close relationship with his mother. This makes Mrs. Winning envious as she has never felt that her son, Howard was that close to her.
One day, Mrs. Maclane hires a black man as her gardener. Everyone in the town is shocked by this and they begin to shun her. Many people try to convince Mrs. Winning to influence her friend to fire the man, Mr. Jones. Mrs. Winning resents the implication that she and Mrs. Maclane are close since the latter is not a respected member of the community. She disassociates herself from the Maclane family and stops speaking to Mrs. Maclane.
When Mrs. Maclane asks her why the community is shunning her, Mrs. Winning tells her it may have something to do with her hiring Mr. Jones. Mrs. Maclane is offended by the suggestion and doesn’t understand why simply employing a black man would earn her this reputation.
A thunderstorm knocks a tree into Mrs. Maclane’s yard. Mr. Jones finds that he cannot remove it and she wonders aloud to him if she should just give up and move back to the city. She tells Mr. Jones that the tree can be the next owners problem. Davey sees Mrs. Winning on the street and tries to greet her but she ignores him.
Dorothy And My Grandmother And The Sailors
The narrator, who is never named tells us about her childhood in San Francisco. She says that during fleet week when sailors would flood the town, her mother and grandmother would warn her and her friend, Dorothy, to stay away from sailors and never speak to them. The narrator did not know why she was to be so afraid of sailors that the warning stuck with her.
She recounts that she once went to a movie with Dorothy, her grandmother and her mother and two sailors sat down next to her. She was so horrified that got up and left the theater.
Afterward, the narrator’s mother and grandmother take the girls out for hot cocoa to comfort them. But more sailors walk into the cafe. The girl’s mother assumes that the sailors from the theater followed them. That night a frightened Dorothy spends the night at the narrator’s house.
Mrs. Arnold visits a specialist and requests that the specialist tell her how to tells if an individual is going insane. The specialist asks Mrs. Arnold to expound.
Mrs. Arnold tells of an occurrence in which her husband was not able to buy the Times at his typical newspaper kiosk and turned out to be nonsensically troubled by this. She asks why terms, for example, “psychosomatic medicine” or “international cartels” exist. In his medicinal clarification to her, the specialist starts to utilize similarly muddled, excessively verbose terms. Mrs. Arnold grows hysterical and the specialist censures her. He continues utilizing inscrutable terms.
Surrendering, Mrs. Arnold just rehashes some of what he said and leaves.
Elizabeth Style, an employee at a literary agency in New York arrives at work to find that her boss and lover, Robert has hired a young, beautiful woman to be his assistant.
She meets Robert for lunch and confronts him about hiring the girl, Daphne. Robert evades the question and the two go back to the office. Once there he begins speaking with Daphne in private and Elizabeth struggles to listen.
Elizabeth calls up a former client, James Harris and asks him to have dinner with her. Once done, she informs Daphne that she is fired. After going home, Elizabeth prepares for dinner with James Harris and though she barely knows him, thinks that he will be her ticket out of New York and to some warm beach somewhere.
A Fine Old Firm
Helen and her mother, Mrs. Concord are sewing together when they are visited by a Mrs. Friedman. Mrs. Friedman’s son, Bobby is stationed in the army with Mrs. Concord’s son, Charlie. Both men have written letters to their mothers and the two women quickly discover that they have written different versions of the same events.
Mrs. Friedman says that her husband, the founder of a law firm is interested in employing Charlie after she comes back home. Mrs. Concord says no to this offer and says that Charlie already has a job ready when he comes home with another law firm.
Mrs. Friedman bids goodbye and leaves.
Mrs. Wilkens and Mrs. Straw go out to eat at a restaurant known for it’s entertainment. The ordered food and an act come on the restaurant’s stage. The act is a ventriloquist and his dummy. The women dislike his act. After his act is over, the ventriloquist returns to his table with an extravagantly dressed young woman. The couple begins to argue and the dummy begins to insult and mock the girl.
Mrs. Wilkens is so offended by what she overhears from the dummy that she stands up, slaps the dummy and leaves with Mrs. Straw. Once they are gone, the girl straightens the dummy’s head.
Seven Types Of Ambiguity
Mr. Harris runs a bookstore where a man named Mr. Clark is a regular customer. Mr. Clark repeatedly returns to the store to look at a copy of a book called “Seven Types of Ambiguity” though he cannot afford it yet. Mr. Harris promises to hold the book for him.
One day, a married couple enters, hoping to build up their book collection. Mr. Clark begins talking to the man of the couple and the man is clearly made envious by Mr. Clark’s intellectual superiority. Before he leaves, Mr. Clark talks to Mr. Harris about the “Seven Types” book and the other man asks Mr. Harris if he can buy the book though he has no interest in it.
Mr. Harris sells the couple the book without hesitation.
Come Dance With Me In Ireland
Mrs. Archer is at home with her baby when an old, homeless man knocks on the door and tries to sell her shoelaces. As he is speaking he nearly faints and Mrs. Archer calls upon her friends Mrs. Corn and Mrs. Valentine to help her bring the man into the house.
Mrs. Corn suggests that the man is drunk while Mrs. Archer prepares a meal for him. The man tells them that his name is John O’Flaherty. As he is eating he tells them that he knew the poet, Yeats. Before he finishes his meal, he stands, thanks, Mrs. Archer for her hospitality and insults Mrs. Corn.
He leaves and Mrs. Corn assumes that she was right in calling him a drunk.
Mrs. Tylor takes an opportunity to greet the family who has just moved in next door to her. She finds that her neighbors are a Mr. and Mrs. Harris and their children. She invites Mrs. Harris and her youngest son over to her house for tea and while there Mrs. Harris tells her that her husband, James dislikes the radio and newspapers and that he only reads Pre-Elizabethan plays. She also says that they hated their previous neighbors for leaving a copy of The New York Times on their doorstep.
As they talk, Mrs. Tylor realizes that she shares nothing in common with Mrs. Harris and will most likely not be friends with her. She suggests that she and her husband come over for bridge sometimes only for Mrs. Harris to announce that her husband also dislikes bridge.
Mrs. Harris leaves and Mrs. Tylor is glad to be rid of her.
Pillar of Salt
Margaret and Brad, a married couple, take a trip to New York City for the first time. Margaret is initially impressed with the city but soon finds that it is too claustrophobic and a number of people makes her nervous.
Brad and Margaret take a walk on the beach in Long Island where they run into a girl who tells them that she has discovered a severed leg on the beach. They call the police and as they wait the girl tells Margaret that an arm had recently washed up on the beach as well.
The incident further frightens Margaret about the city and she begins to find it difficult to leave the apartment that she and Brad are staying in. She eventually ends up paralyzed in fear outside of a drugstore and has to call her husband to come and help her.
Men With Their Big Shoes
Mrs. Hart is a pregnant young wife who hired a maid named Mrs. Anderson on a whim when she was feeling particularly overwhelmed. Now that Mrs. Anderson is working she has proven to be a poor employee but Mrs. Hart can’t bring herself to fire her.
One morning, Mrs. Anderson is displeased that she has to clean up after a party that the Hart’s had the night before. She begins to talk about the infidelity of most husbands with Mrs. Hart as she cleans and Mrs. Hart is upset by the topic.
Mrs. Anderson begins to talk about her own husband, revealing that he is a drunk and abusive. Then she suggests that she move into the house with the Harts. Mrs. Hart is horrified by this prospect but knows that she doesn’t have the willpower to say no to the woman. She listens, tormented as Mrs. Anderson begins to plan the idea.
Clara Spencer takes a trip to New York City to be treated by a proper dentist for her chronic toothache. On the bus to the city, she meets a man named Jim who seems to be following her around. Once she reaches New York, Clara discovers that her tooth needs to be removed. She is in a lot of pain and disoriented by the pain medication after she leaves the dentist and when she stops in the bathroom to rinse off her face she finds that she doesn’t recognize herself in the mirror.
Clara throws away a barrette with her name on it and realizes that she no longer recollects who she is or how to return home. She leaves the building and bumps into Jim who takes her with him. She hallucinates that she is running through the warm sand with Jim next to her.
Got A Letter From Jimmy
The narrator of the story, a woman who is never given a name, learns over dinner that her husband has received a letter from a man named Jimmy. The husband and Jimmy had some sort of fight recently and he decides to send the letter back unopened.
Consumed with curiosity, the narrator begins to try to convince her husband to open the letter and begins to think that she will murder him if he doesn’t. When he still refuses, the narrator becomes internally furious and vows to bash her husband’s skull in and bury him in their cellar with the letter.
The final story in the book is set in a small town with a population of only three hundred people. On a June morning, the people of the town gather for a lottery that is to happen at ten in the morning. Some small children being collecting stones.
A man named Mr. Summers conducts the lottery and calls up the head of every family, usually the husband, to draw a slip of paper from a black box.
Once every the heads of all of the families have received slips they simultaneously check them. A man named Bill Hutchinson has received the special slip. His family is singled out and Mr. Summers makes them draw from a box with five slips. The Hutchinson children and father all reveal that their slips are blank. Mrs. Hutchinson has the paper with the black dot. As she protests she is stoned to death by the entire town including her children and husband.
The epilog of the book is a few lines from James Harris, The Daemon Lover, Child Ballad No. 243. In the poem, a woman sails away with a male companion on an otherwise empty ship. Shortly after they embark, she notices that her companion has a cloven foot. The woman becomes frightened and her companion tells her to stop. She remarks on the hills on the horizon and he tells her that she will never see the hills of heaven. He further explains that they are going towards the mountains of hell.
In the final line, the man, presumably James Harris, The Demon Lover sinks the ship and drowns them.
Character Analysis (The Lottery)
Mrs. Tess Hutchinson – Tess is the last to come into the lottery, saying that she had overlooked the date. She falls in with her family quickly. When her husband picks the stamped sheet of paper, Tess denounces Mr. Summers for being out of line and not giving her husband enough time to choose. Thus, when she herself picks the checked paper, she challenges the custom as opposed to accepting her destiny.
Bill Hutchinson – Tess’ husband is the one who picks the special lottery ticket that signifies that someone in his family is selected for death. He orders his wife to be quiet when she challenges Mr. Summers. Bill is far from upset when his wife is slated for death and, in fact, joins in stoning her with their children.
Mr. Joe Summers – Mr. Summers maintains a coal business and is also accountable for different town exercises, including the lottery. He consistently encourages the town to develop another black box for the lottery, yet nobody ever listens to him.
Shirley Jackson Biography
Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco in 1916. The daughter of a middle-class couple she moved to Rochester, New York as a teenager and received her bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University. While working on the school newspaper, Jackson met her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman.
After graduating, the two were married. The moved to Vermont where they raised four children.
Jackson began publishing books in the early 50’s, with her novel Hangsaman in 1951. However, she was best known for her short story, “The Lottery” which received much controversy from readers.
During the 1950’s, Jackson was an extremely prolific writer, releasing many short story collections and becoming quite a popular and well-known author.
In 1959, she released a novel titled, “The Haunting of Hill House” which has since been adapted into many different movies and remains one of the most widely known and highly praised ghost stories of all time. In addition to her novels and short stories, Jackson also wrote several autobiographical novels and one children’s novel, ‘Nine Magic Wishes’ which was illustrated by her grandson.Jackson won many awards in her lifetime including the O. Henry Prize Stories award in 1949 and the Best American Short Stories award 4 separate times in 1944, 1951, 1956 and 1964.
Jackson won many awards in her lifetime including the O. Henry Prize Stories award in 1949 and the Best American Short Stories award 4 separate times in 1944, 1951, 1956 and 1964.Jackson suffered from ill health for most of her life which were exacerbated by her constant smoking.
Jackson suffered from ill health for most of her life which were exacerbated by her constant smoking. She died in her sleep of heart failure in 1965 at the age of 48. 42 years later, in the year 2007, the Shirley Jackson Awards were established in her honor. They are awarded for outstanding achievements in the literature of horror and dark stories.