“The Lottery” – a short story written by Shirley Jackson – showcases the perfect example of an unexpected plot twist. The author slowly builds up the suspense, postponing the actual reveal to the very end of the story. The readers follow the atmosphere changes in the process, beginning to feel anxious and nervous but still not being ready for the final plot turn. It is achieved through several clues that the author placed throughout the story, the clues that acquire their whole meaning only after the story’s last sentences.
The author did not try to hide the first clue – children’s play with the stones. In the second paragraph, it is said that the school days are over in summer, so the children were the first to gather on the street (Jackson, 2015). They collect the stones and arrange them in piles across the square, putting some inside their pockets; the seeming innocence of the childish actions hides the true purpose of the stone gathering.
When Tessie Hutchinson arrives late for the lottery, she draws the readers’ attention. Her arrival figuratively separates her from the crowd and indicates that she might have a specific role to play in the future. The commentary of Mr. Summers – the one who runs the lottery – can be interpreted as a sign of care; however, this interpretation is valid only while the purpose of the lottery stays unknown.
Another clue hides behind the question of drawing papers for the Watson family. Before their turn, every household was represented by a husband or a father. However, when Watson’s turn comes, it is revealed that Mr. Watson is not present in the square, although no hint of his absence is given. It leaves the readers with the hanging question that seems irrelevant at the time; the answer might be he was the last lottery’s “winner.”
Overall, the clues – sometimes hidden, sometimes disguised – slowly build up an atmosphere of anxiety, feeling that something is not right. The weight of the clues’ true meaning is unleashed on the readers, along with the avalanche of the story’s ending. Jackson displays her skill as a writer, managing to put so much tension into a short story, cutting the plot in the most appropriate spot, and leaving the readers to deal with their imagination.
Jackson, Shirley. 2015. The Lottery and Other Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.