“The Lottery” and “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”: Books Analysis

“The Lottery”

The topic of human estrangement and irresponsiveness to the others’ suffering is one of the issues attracting both general minds and creative genius. What is better, a steady observance of ancient traditions and norms, or a flexible attitude to standards, depending on the level of their humanity or inhumanity? Those questions arise upon reading a short story by Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery”. Jackson develops the topic of estrangement and cold-blooded attitude to the others by employing a number of literary devices, among which the setting, the characters, the suspense, and the tone play the key roles.

The way Jackson represents the setting of the story helps to establish a detached, objective, and impartial point of view. As such, the narrative point of view is a term used to define the perspective, or the point from which the narrator of the literary piece views everything that takes place in the narration (Griffith 37). The choice of point of view creates the necessary closeness or distance to the characters and the situation and thus promotes or discourages the readers’ involvement in or estrangement from the events described in the narration. In “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson employs a third-person objective point of view to create an atmosphere of suspense and mystery. The choice of such a point of view may be justified by the purpose of distancing the reader from the characters to diminish the emotional impact of the story while it is developing so that the ending appears more shocking after the emotionally neutral narration. As compared to the third-person omniscient point of view, the third-person objective (or dramatic) point of view allows for the knowledge of places, times, and events but lacks insight into the thoughts and feelings of the characters (Griffith 38). In “The Lottery”, the narrator accurately reports the place and time of the traditional event, “The morning of June 27th, […] in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock…” (Jackson 120). The outward sequence of actions and the contents of conversations between the characters is also rendered precisely enough: children come first and speak of school; men follow them and talk of business; and women arrive as last and exchange the village gossip (Jackson 120–121). The whole process of preparation for the lottery is described meticulously, including the making of the lists, the marking of the paper slips, and the setting of the black lottery box (Jackson 121–122, 125).

Despite this detailed account of events which allows the readers to imagine everything as if they were eye-witnesses to the scene, there is no sign of involvement with the personalities of the villagers. The narration appears to be indifferent like a news report and shows no sign of compassion or sympathy with the villagers’ feelings, thoughts, or interests. The reader can only guess the reasons why the villagers take the lottery as a necessary yet uninteresting enterprise. The crowd gathering in the square is described as a group of people deprived of bright individualities. Everybody acts the way others do, and any deviation from the commonly accepted norm is seen as a serious violation. Only the outward signs of some emotional involvement are reported by the narrator in phrases like “a sudden hush fell on the crowd”, “they grinned at one another humorlessly and nervously”, “she […]greeted Mr. Summers gravely”, “turning them over and over nervously” (Jackson 122–123). The general negative meaning of the words used to describe the behavior of the villagers only prompts to a careful reader that the people are not too happy to be taking part in the lottery. Such emotional scarceness and sullenness sharply contrasts the supposedly festive occasion of the lottery and arouses suspense that things are not as calm and ordinary as they are described.

The topic of estrangement is further developed in the story not only by the neutral and objective approach to describing characters, but also through concealing significant details and thus further enhancing the suspense in the story. On the one hand, Shirley Jackson pays a lot of attention to describing the procedure of gathering stones before the lottery:

“Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix — the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy” — eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys.” (Jackson 120–121)

The shape of the stones and their organization are thoroughly discussed by the narrator in the very beginning of the story. Additional attention is attracted to the stones by highlighting one of the boys’ misbehavior: “Bobby Martin ducked under his mother’s grasping hand and ran, laughing, back to the pile of stones” (Jackson 121). On the other hand, no explanation is provided as to why the boys should be gathering stones, arranging them so carefully and, moreover, even guarding their stone piles from the others. Another significant detail that lacks explanation is the purpose of the lottery itself. The narrator involves into a highly detailed description of the preparation and drawing stages of the lottery, but still keeps the reader unaware of the final prize that awaits the winner. Such delaying of the truth facilitates the impact of the story dénouement which comes like a bolt from the blue for the reader. The only hints of the unpleasant nature of the prize that are scattered throughout the story may be found in the attitude of the villagers who see the lottery rather as an unpleasant but necessary chore that should be traditionally dealt with, and the sooner the better: “… guess we better get started, get this over with, so’s we can go back to work” (Jackson 122). But even with these hints, the details are not sufficient for the reader to reveal the truth too soon.

The main topic of estrangement is significantly emphasized through the neutral and objective tone of narration maintained throughout the story. A significant part of point of view, the tone is the attitude of the narrator to the events, characters, and ideas related in the story (Griffith 39). Similar to the way characters are ignored as personalities and events are missing key details, the tone in Shirley Jackson’s story is kept impersonal. There is no criticism, irony, curiosity, sympathy or assessment observed in the way the narrator presents the events of the lottery. The reader is allowed to develop any possible attitude to the story told by the narrator. Not emotions but mere facts are reported in an objective, chronicle-like way that reminds more of news items than of an emotionally involved tale. Such approach allows the narrator to maintain a distance from the events occurring in the story and thus to remain not implicated in the drama that takes place in the village. In a certain sense, this emotional dissociation of the narrator reminds of the villagers’ attitude to their victim. They hit her with stones cold-bloodedly, as if performing an old ritual but not emotionally involving in it.

As it becomes obvious from the analysis of the setting, the characterization, and the tone of “The Lottery”, the success of Shirley Jackson’s short story is by large secured through the choice of third-person objective point of view. The detailed account of events without emotional involvement in the feelings of the villagers produces a tremendous effect on the readers who remain breath taken at the appalling cruelty of the situation. Absence of personal characterization, concealing significant details, and maintaining a detached tone help the writer keep the point of view that makes the readers thrill in suspense. As the reader proceeds to the terrible dénouement of “The Lottery”, the topic of human hopelessness in face of the objective tradition comes to the fore. Lack of emotional involvement and empathy to the ‘winner’ of the lottery turn her fellow-villagers into cruel beasts who do not care about any humane values and relations. The lottery becomes a traditional death-machine, maintained rather for mere custom than for anyone’s interest. A frightening undertaking, it appears to find no emotional feedback in the callous hearts of the villagers, who thus turn into indurate robots unable of taking a critical and humane approach to their actions.

“The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”

In human life, there are certain critical periods when identity issues come to the fore. Thus, for example, one of the most widespread ‘problem periods’ is teenage, when young people try to establish themselves in this world as bright individualities and to prove that they are worth public attention. However, personal dramas and discrepancies between self-perception and the others’ attitude are observed not only during teenage. Another critical period in human life is the period of ageing, when people cross the border from mature to elderly age and enter the category of the seniors. The conflict between the outward and the inward perception of an elderly person is vividly deployed in the short story “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” by Katherine Anne Porter. By means of expressive characterization and symbolism, the writer demonstrates the tragic situation when the inner self-perception of an old woman is absolutely different from how she is taken by her relatives and other people.

As one of the means of characterization, Porter employs characterization from the point of view of the others to show the personality of Granny Weatherall. From the point of view of the others, Granny is a helpless old woman who should be kept pleased even in her most silly ideas. Most demonstrative of the typical attitude to the elderly is the way Granny Weatherall is treated by her daughter Cornelia. “Dutiful and good”, Cornelia approaches her mother as “deaf, dumb, and blind”, warning the other family members to let Granny have things her own was only because she is old (Porter 342, paragraph 10; 343, paragraph 24). The “little hasty glances and tiny gestures tossed around here and over her head” serve as signals to the others that old Granny should not be contradicted even if she is wrong (Porter 343, paragraph 24).

Such an attitude appears to be quite condescending and can hardly be called respectful, since respect is honoring someone for achievements and not simply for old age. In the society shown by Porter, elderly people are rather dismissed as feeble and inapt of caring for themselves, not to mention caring for the others. Grandparents are politely listened to and assented to, but despite this outward agreement the younger generations do not always take seriously what they hear from grandparents. Allowance for old age is made when the grandparents’ logical reasoning and common sense seem to be different from that of the younger adults. In a silent conspiracy of caring for the elderly, they are allowed to do what they want only to keep them satisfied and calm the way a caring mother pampers her child. This seemingly caring attitude actually appears humiliating to the elderly people, since they are treated not as worthy equal members of society but as weaker generation, whimsical in their mental deterioration. Instead of using the elders’ wisdom, the younger generations laugh upon their sleeves at the seeming senselessness of the elders’ ideas and perceptions.

In contrast to the belittling attitude of the youth, the self-perception of the elderly differs quite radically from the way they are seen by younger people. The elderly appear to value their life and try to live it to the fullest, the way they have been used to doing it throughout their previous years. Having worked hard during her whole life, Granny Weatherall still keeps busy with all kinds of small chores she can only think of since “there was always so much to be done” (Porter 342, paragraph 15). Once her fear of death is overcome, Granny tries to enjoy a full-blooded life and her daughter’s precautious attitude annoys her so much that sometimes she thinks of moving away from the children so that “nobody could remind her every minute that she was old” (Porter 343, paragraph 24). Keeping constantly busy with all kinds of seemingly senseless undertakings is the way Granny tries to prove to herself and to the rest of the world that she is still someone worth living, someone worth listening to, and someone worth the others’ respect.

The situation when the people of elder generations involve into energetic activities which may seem ridiculous to the young is not rare. Many seniors all over the world enjoy an active lifestyle – too active from the point of view of their children – and resent any attempts to make them settle calmly as it is ‘proper’ to their age. They feel young and want to prove it to the rest of the world even in spite of their biological age. Such manner of behavior and of manifesting oneself to the rest of the world is proper to the old people and quite explainable from the point of view of psychology. Striving to preserve their identity for as long time as possible, the people of the elder generations attempt at connecting as long as possible to the things that mattered much to them when they still were young and energetic. As it appears, it is possible to keep the sense of fulfillment and identity by maintaining the “ability to remember [one’s] own personal history and people and places that contributed to that history” (Kohn, Donley, and Wear 4). This link to the past is scrupulously preserved by the elderly in their daily activities. For example, Granny Weatherall clings on to her old routine of arranging the make-up pots and hair solutions bottles neatly on the shelves, although it is quite doubtful whether she ever uses them as an eighty-year-old woman (Porter 342, paragraph 17). Another technique of preserving identity is connecting to the information from the past. Granny Weatherall keeps all her letters to her husband and to her first suitor who neglected her, even though the former has died long ago and the latter is an ugly traitor who has broken her heart (Porter 342, paragraph 17). Last but not least, identity saving motives keep Granny Weatherall living with her daughter, even though it is not infrequent that she wants to pack her things and leave for good (Porter 343, paragraph 24).

In “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”, the necessity of connection with the formerly active youth in order to stay emotionally and physically alive is rendered through the means of symbolism. For one thing, symbolism reveals itself in Granny’s name. ‘Weatherall’ means she can go through any difficulties and survive any hardships, remaining as active and efficient as she used to be. Such a name indicates Granny’s insatiable need of action and devoted participation in every event of daily life, in spite of her physical condition. Granny Weatherall remains strong and rises from the ashes even after one of her greatest hopes fails and her first suitor betrays her.

A key symbolic opposition is the contrast of light and darkness that accompany Granny Weatherall throughout her whole life. Light can be seen as an indication of Granny’s vital power and strong faith. A religious person, Granny Weatherall has “her secret comfortable understanding with a few favorite saints who cleared a straight road to God for her” (Porter 345, paragraph 49). This clear road is obviously filled with light of placidity and happiness for Granny. The happy moments in her life are filled with light, and when misfortune comes, shadows settle. One of the vivid examples of such contrast between light and darkness is seen in the description of Granny’s failed wedding day, when “there was the day, the day, but a whirl of dark smoke rose and covered it, crept up and over into the bright field where everything was planted so carefully in orderly rows. That was hell…” (Porter 344, paragraph 29). Heaven as light and hell as darkness are clear symbols of Granny’s perception of world. Not only Heaven, but also Granny herself is represented by light, which fades as she dies: “She stretched herself with a deep breath and blew out the light” (Porter 346, paragraph 61). Maintaining this light of her life by remaining active is Granny’s main preoccupation. The tragedy is that the younger people do not see that light in her and do not help keep up the fire of life.

In “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”, Porter demonstrates the conflict between generations through creating vivid characters and employing symbolic images. The situation of a dramatic discrepancy between the way old people are perceived by younger generation and the way they feel and want to act is typical of all times. Feeling young and acting accordingly despite the age is a part of positive attitude that helps maintain self-identity and thus overcome the crisis of the old age.

References

Griffith, Kelley. Writing Essays about Literature: A Guide and Style Sheet. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. Print.

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. 4th compact ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2008. 120–125. Print.

Kohn, Martin, Donley, Carol C., and Delese Wear, eds. “Aging and Identity: Introduction.” Literature and Aging: An Anthology. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1992. 3–4. Print.

Porter, Katherine Anne. “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. 4th Compact Ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2008. 341–346. Print.