Usually when someone hears the word “lottery” the first thing that comes to mind is a large sum of cash that people compete against highly impractical odds to win. Shirley Jackson’s story The Lottery might imply a similar conception based on the title alone, but the story is filled with unknowns never revealing exactly when and where the story takes place, or why the lottery exists; even what the lottery is isn’t revealed until the very end. Yet despite Jackson’s omission of details in The Lottery, she manages to create an overtone of mystery that compels the reader to grasp the world of the story rather than define it in terms of the physical world and form their own opinions.
Often in stories, setting is a key element, and that the more detailed the setting, the more believable the world of the story is. Jackson does not follow this style in her story; the only real information Jackson gives the reader about the world of The Lottery, is that it takes place on “The morning of June 27th...” and “...in this village there were only about three hundred people...” (235). It’s obvious that this is not a world driven story, since so few details are given about the village it takes place in. However Jackson is not the only author to incorporate a lack of exposition. Raymond Carver, wrote in a similar fashion, using very little details under the realization that: “...it’s possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those tings...with immense, even startling power” (qtd. in May 48). The lack of details broadens the mystery of the story, and presents the opportunity for the reader to fill in the blanks such as time in place; by allowing the reader to make their own interpretations about the story’s setting, it forces their focus towards discovery exactly what the lottery is, the main mystery of the story.
The most important detail kept at bay from the reader until the very end, is what the lottery actually is. The lottery is mentioned throughout the story, with very few specific details given about what it is, making it the center of mystery in the story. The only things that the reader is directly told about this phenomenon are that that “There’s always been a lottery” (Jackson 239), that this is something that everyone in town takes part in, and that this village is not the only one that practices this “lottery.” At the end of the story, it’s revealed that the lottery works by everyone in town drawing a piece of paper from a box, and whoever draws the paper with the black spot wins. Not surprisingly, what the recipient of the marked paper wins is not mentioned; thus with the mystery surrounding what the lottery is resolved, it leaves the question: “what is the purpose behind the lottery?” which the reader is left to determine on their own.
Since so little concrete information is given about when, where, and what goes on in the story, the reader is left to fill...