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Thursday, June 26, 2008

“A stone hit her on the side of the head.”

posted by on June 26 at 16:31 PM

On this day, 60 years ago, The New Yorker published “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson.

People flipped the fuck out—cancelled subscriptions, wrote bags of hate mail. The story was banned outright in South Africa and, according to Wikipedia, ranked seventeenth on Playboy’s list of books most banned by public high schools in the U.S.

It’s still one of my most vivid reading memories. I was sitting in a classroom in Lexington, Massachusetts (I must’ve been in fifth or sixth grade), in one of those old desks where the hard-plastic writing surface is attached to the chair by a metal bar on the right-hand side. The bar, for some reason, was always chilly.

It was reading time and, having brought nothing to read, pulled an oversized, hardback anthology of short stories off the shelf in the back of the classroom. I read it lazily, only halfway paying attention, until the last two paragraphs, which made me feel funny inside—nauseated and a little afraid. I had, at that time, never read anything that had changed my emotional weather so quickly and thoroughly.

Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn`t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.

“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.

Still making me feel funny, after all these years.

Happy birthday, “The Lottery.”

RSS icon Comments


not as brilliant and terrifying as Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard To Find", but a close second.

Posted by michael strangeways | June 26, 2008 4:38 PM

I was in the one-act adaptation of this in high school and loved it, too.

Any sane director would have had us just mime the stoning, but ours chose to litter the otherwise bare stage with pebbles wrapped in papier mache -- so that, as projectiles, they would actually fly through the air because of the weight. That's what we used to stone our leading lady. Dozens of padded pebbles that we actually threw at and hit her with. Can you imagine that happening today?

But, yes, fantastic story on so many levels.

Posted by whatevernevermind | June 26, 2008 4:42 PM

So what's the story about?

Posted by McGarvie | June 26, 2008 4:51 PM
Posted by djgirth | June 26, 2008 4:56 PM

@2 -- If you promise to cast Mr. Poe as your Tessie Hutchinson and dispense with the papier mache padding, I'll personally bankroll your production.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | June 26, 2008 4:59 PM

I must confess I was also in a high school one act of the Lottery. We also had paper mache rocks that flew threw the air (i was accidently pelted in the head during a performance and it hurt). However, the director allowed us to use red corn syrup blood during the pelting scene, and in the end, we were drenched in red, like a scene out of Dead/Alive. It was glorious.

Posted by bobo | June 26, 2008 5:01 PM

If Christians wanted to be real Christians, they would continue to stone.

Posted by Non | June 26, 2008 5:02 PM

Nevermind; what I found interesting about this stroy was how well it conveyed how the public actually really gets a rise out of a group killing....enjoying it even. It made me think of hangings and the gang mentality.

Posted by Non | June 26, 2008 5:03 PM

Don't know if I could actually watch a live stage version of the short story, althouth it's one of my all-time favorites. But then, I managed to survive puppets fucking in Avenue Q, so I guess it's not such a great leap to endure papier mache rocks and red corn syrup.

Posted by DaiBando | June 26, 2008 5:05 PM

"although" Shit.

Posted by DaiBando | June 26, 2008 5:06 PM

I happened to stumble across the 1996 t.v. movie version starring a pre-Felicty Keri Russell. The only saving grace was the fabulous Veronica Cartwright, crazy character actress extraordinaire. I love me some Veronica Cartwright.

Posted by rose | June 26, 2008 5:32 PM

@5 -- Best laugh o' the day!

@8 -- Part of what I like is Jackson's comment on religion, that learned superstition is learned superstition. When is it good and when is it bad? Does the Lottery really make the corn grow or do the villagers only think it does? And is it justified either way?

She packed in a ton of stuff in such a short story.

And I'm so jealous now that we didn't have a corn syrup bloodbath in our show, too.

Posted by whatevernevermind | June 26, 2008 5:59 PM

The scene where the hero (MTV's Dan Cortese!) is in the graveyard the night before the lottery and and suddenly realizes that ALL THE TOMBSTONES HAVE THE SAME DATES (cue scary music) is one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

Shirley Jackson kicked ass.

Posted by David | June 26, 2008 6:04 PM

I loved making my arm hairs stand up from the current running through that metal bar on those desks. Sometimes a shock could be a real doozy.

Yeah... that story scared the shit out of me.

Posted by M.A. | June 26, 2008 6:13 PM

@1 - Agreed. My favorite line from "A Good Man": "She would have been a good woman," the Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

Posted by Lupus took the life of Flannery O'Connor | June 26, 2008 6:15 PM

I wonder if a lupus awareness group has ever run an ad campaign, "Get Tested for Lupus now! The life you save may be your own!"?

Posted by David | June 26, 2008 6:49 PM

Gah. I still remember reading this story and being flabbergasted. i should pick it up again. . .

Posted by Balt-O-Matt | June 26, 2008 7:23 PM

@16 Ha! It's a song by Killdozer, probably the most literate of all bands signed to Touch & Go in the '80s. Go to You Tube and give 'er a listen - they're great.

Posted by I'm Not Lisa | June 26, 2008 7:59 PM

'The Lottery' may be high on the banned list, but it's also *the* most widely taught short story in American schools.

Posted by johnnie | June 26, 2008 9:40 PM


I've never seen the version you mention, but Larry Yust's 1969 film version was a staple of junior & senior h.s. English and Social Studies classes during the mid/late '70's.

Posted by COMTE | June 26, 2008 10:29 PM

@19: I don't know about that. "The Lady or the Tiger" and "The Most Dangerous Game" come up with astounding regularity.

Posted by Ryan | June 26, 2008 10:33 PM

Jackson is the most famous alum from my high school, back in upstate New York. It's a very twisted local rite of passage when every student is told that the story they are about to read is the product of a local girl done good. That glow of pride almost inevitably turns to fear and revulsion, as kids are lead from the classroom in stunned horror. Everyone who grew up in my town has the same memory.

Posted by Gurldoggie | June 27, 2008 12:24 AM

"The bar, for some reason, was always chilly"??? This sentence ruined the post for me. Yuck.

Posted by Katie D. | June 27, 2008 5:05 AM

They're still reading this one in Seattle Public Schools...I was reminded of this story earlier this school year by a teen who'd read it in class. She came home saying, "today we read a story called 'The was horrible!'"

Posted by schnoodle | June 27, 2008 8:23 AM

now that the supreme court has struck down the gun ban, i will be keeping a handgun at work in case my coworkers get a hankerin' for a stoning.

Posted by jon c | June 27, 2008 8:47 AM

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