Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Lottery", aroused much controversy and criticism in 1948, following its debut publication, in the New Yorker. Jackson uses irony and comedy to suggest an underlying evil, hypocrisy, and weakness of human kind.
The story takes place in a small village, where the people are close and tradition is paramount. A yearly event, called the lottery, is one in which one person in the town is randomly chosen, by a drawing, to be violently stoned by friends and family. The drawing has been around over seventy-seven years and is practiced by every member of the town.
The surrealness of this idea is most evident through Jackson's tone. Her use of friendly language among the villagers and the presentation of the lottery as an event similar to the square dances and Halloween programs illustrates the lottery as a welcomed, festive event. Jackson describes the social atmosphere of the women prior to the drawing: "They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip" (281). The lottery is conducted in a particular manner, and with so much anticipation by the villagers, that the reader expects the winner to receive a prize or something of that manner. It is not until the every end of the story that the reader learns of the winner's fate: Death, by friends and family.
It seems as though Jackson is making a statement regarding hypocrisy and human evil. The lottery is set in a very mundane town, where everyone knows everyone and individuals are typical. Families carry the very ordinary names of Warner, Martin and Anderson. Jackson's portrayal of extreme evil in this ordinary, friendly atmosphere suggests that people are not always as they seem. She implies that underneath one's outward congeniality, there may be lurking a pure evil.
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