The Midnight Society: "The Lottery" Discussion

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Most horror stories do not begin with the weather being described as "clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day." The sentence "It was a dark and stormy night" might be a cliche, but it is so for a reason. Picturing the ink-black darkness of night time, coupled with the cold and disconcerting rain, is a surefire way to get a reader into the spooky mood. (In fact, two of the Midnight Society stories we'll read in the next couple of weeks take place, at least partially, in darkness and/or rain.) But perhaps there is something even more uncomfortable and unsettling knowing that you're about to read a tale of suspense and being asked to transport yourself to a "clear and sunny" day. 

I remember first reading this story and getting to that last handful of words " ... then they were upon her" and just being in disbelief. My mouth was likely hanging open at the brutality of it all, my discomfort increased by the fact that the story just ... ended. With one eighth grade class with whom I read this story, I kept a black bag in the front and center of the room the entire week we studied "The Lottery." Of course, on the first day the students had no idea what it was about, but by the end of the story they were all looking at that black bag with dread. Inside the bag, I, of course, had placed a class's worth of folded up blank white papers -- a class's worth minus one. On one piece, I had placed a clear, black dot in the center. When we finished reading, I shook up the bag, and, just like in the story, in alphabetical order I had the students select a piece of paper from the bag. Once every student had one, I had them open up their slips. Even though the students knew it wasn't real, even though they knew nothing bad could happen to them, there was complete silence in the room as each student drew his or her slip of paper. Then a cold sense of dread filled the room as they opened them up. 

I hope that you, too, felt that same sense of foreboding and discomfort as you read and that you enjoyed this week's tale "The Lottery." Here are some discussion questions I'd love for you to consider! And, of course, if you'd just like to let me know how you liked the story, how it made you feel, and what your favorite parts were, I'd love to hear that also! 

Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society: our discussion on Shirley Jackson's tale of horror, "The Lottery."

1. Were you surprised by the ending of the story? If not, at what point did you know what was going to happen? How does the author foreshadow the ending?

2. Is the lottery a collective act of murder? Is it morally justified? Is "tradition" sufficient justification for their actions?

3. What is the most uncomfortable or unsettling part of the story for you? (I will jump in and share that, without a doubt, the most horrible line for me is, "And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles.") 

4. Does this story remind you of anything going on the world today? A book you’ve read before? A movie you’ve seen?

5.  What is the significance of Mrs. Hutchinson's final scream, "It isn't fair, it isn't right"? What aspect of the lottery is she challenging, and what aspect goes unquestioned? (This is my most favorite question!)

I look forward to hearing what you think! And on Monday we'll begin next week's story, "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs.  

Some questions adapted from this source. 

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