In my high school days, I remember reading a lot. Reading in class, reading for homework, and, worst of all, reading over summer break. So many books and stories. Some, I enjoyed. Others were a pain. In the years since graduating, a good portion of what I read has faded from memory. However, there’s one story from my sophomore year that has always stuck out to me – a short story entitled “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.
While I don’t recall all the exact details, I do remember the main points of the story. It’s set in a small, relatively modern town with its residents in a stir. The time has come for the annual lottery the town holds. Leading up to the ceremony, readers see a few different conversations from the townspeople regarding the lottery and their views on it. Nothing seems too amiss until the lottery takes place. The lady who wins, one we see in the prior conversations who seems to support the lottery, starts begging and pleading for this not to happen. As it turns out, the “winner” of the lottery is sacrificed so the town may have a bountiful crop that year.
If you think this story sounds a bit outlandish, you’re not alone. That’s partly why I remember it so much. When I first read this, that outlandishness turned me off the story. Same for most of my classmates. Why would anyone want to read a piece of inane trash like this?
When asked, we expressed these views to our teacher. From what I remember, she was slightly upset at our reaction. Despite this, or maybe because of it, she started explaining the story in greater detail. As a quick summary from what I remember, “The Lottery” was written as an attack against unchecked or irrational traditionalism. The fictional town had held this lottery for years. Even though the sacrifice of one of the townspeople had no real effect on their crop yield, the people had become so stuck in their ways that they never thought to question their archaic tradition.
While that moral was itself a good moral to learn, that’s not the biggest takeaway I had from “The Lottery.” After our teacher connected those dots for us, my opinion of the story started to turn. Once I saw the deeper meaning behind the story, I had a deeper appreciation for the story, something that has lasted to this day.
Indeed, this was a turning point for my view of literature and stories as a whole began to change. I had heard the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” for years at this point. While I understood the concept, I don’t think I actually grasped it until that class.
Ultimately, that’s what I remember “The Lottery” for – for opening my eyes to what may lie hidden between lines. There’s so often a deeper meaning within the words that takes a little digging to find. And this concept transcends books and even media as a whole. Actions, the spoken word, our behavior, all hold implications that go beyond surface level. We just need to dig a little to find them.
Where have you been digging lately? Where do you need to be digging?