Foreshadowing In The Lottery By Shirley Jackson: A Literary Analysis

Shirley Jackson: Master of Horror and Foreshadowing

Shirley Jackson is a renowned American author known for her horror and Gothic novels and short stories. Her portfolio includes three unique novels – The Lottery, The Possibility of Evil, and The Haunting of Hill House. She masterfully creates her narratives using various writing techniques, including foreshadowing, symbolism, and personification.

Dreadful Anticipation: Foreshadowing in The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Shirley’s stories abound with foreshadowing, particularly in “The Lottery”. In this short story, every year on June twenty-seventh, the members of a traditional community gather to conduct a village-wide lottery in which everyone is expected to participate. Throughout the story, the reader picks up on clues and red flags that create an odd, unsettling feeling regarding the townspeople and the purpose of the lottery. Only at the end is the reader informed of the true nature of the lottery. Shirley Jackson employs foreshadowing when writing about one of the traditions related to the lottery: “The boys followed, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones” (p.1). This mysterious act of selectively choosing the rocks makes one wonder why the boys are doing this so deliberately. This can be considered foreshadowing as it implies that the stones will play a critical role soon. As the story progresses, each successive paragraph contains hints about what is to be revealed.

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After the children, men begin to fill the square, followed by the women. “They stood together, away from a pile of stones in the corner” (p.1). The fact that the people in the story stand apart from the stones once again suggests to the reader that the stone will play a significant role. Unease among the parents becomes apparent when the children show reluctance to join their parents at the square. At this point, there is a sense that the outcome of the lottery will not be pleasant. On an initial read, the reader may not notice the foreshadowing until they reread the story. The remainder of Jackson’s foreshadowing is employed to build suspense. For example, the villagers appear anxious when their names are called, as if they expect something terrible to happen. These various clues—the unsettled feelings among the crowd, the significance of the stones, and the unusual structure of the lottery process—all indicate that this is no ordinary lottery.

Symbols and Deception in Jackson’s The Possibility of Evil

In the short story “The Possibility of Evil,” Jackson portrays three different instances of symbolism. The first symbolism emerges at the beginning of the story when Ms. Strangeworth is introduced as a kind elderly woman living on Pleasant Street. Known by everyone, she projects a sweet exterior, akin to observant roses representing her. Over time, however, she proves not as nice and lovely as she initially appears. Ms. Strangeworth sends hurtful messages to her unsuspecting neighbors daily, under the impression that she is protecting the town from evil. Ironically, she is the very epitome of evil. Just as a rose, while appearing lovely and pretty, possesses thorns that may sometimes hurt. For Ms. Strangeworth, these metaphorical thorns were initially invisible to the public, enabling her to harm others without detection. Later in the story, it is revealed that her roses range in hues of red, white, and pink.

Color symbolism further enhances the story, with red roses typifying passion, pink gratitude, and white purity— all vital emotions for a pleasant life. Early in the story, Ms. Strangeworth muses, “The roses belonged on Pleasant Street, and it bothered Ms. Strangeworth to think of people wanting to carry them away” (p.1). Here, Jackson implicitly links these symbolic hues to Ms. Strangeworth’s obsession with perfection. The naming of her residence as Pleasant Street underscores her penchant for pleasantness and flawlessness. However, her yearning for perfection ironically conflicts with the emotions the roses represent. The story presents further symbolism through the letters Ms. Strangeworth writes to her neighbors, brightly colored in yellow, green, pink, and blue. Their vibrant exterior belies the malicious content concealed within, a parallel to Ms. Strangeworth herself. Her character reiterates the proverbial wisdom: “don’t judge a book by its cover,” a testament to the deceptive nature of appearances.

Shirley Jackson’s Haunting Personification in The Haunting of Hill House

“The Haunting on Hill House” is a peculiar, supernatural novel that combines science fiction with horror, in which Jackson’s use of personification is quite fascinating. In the novel, a group of four people agree to stay in Hill House, an abandoned residence with a long history of dark events. Jackson successfully uses personification in the novel by attributing evil and disturbing physical qualities to Hill House. He compares Hill House to the appearance of a wicked, evil person, giving a detailed and disturbing description of the house: “No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house … more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice” (p.14).

Even the characters in the novel perceive the evil personification of the house. Jackson uses personification to describe inanimate objects. He details almost all aspects of Hill House and its surrounding vicinity in such a way that nearly everything in the novel is personified. One such example is the line, “Why so many odd little rooms?… Maybe they liked to hide from each other” (p.45). Here, Jackson personifies the rooms by attributing to them the characteristic of hiding from each other. Another instance of personification in the story lies in the fact that Jackson is not only creating a setting but also a character with evil intentions and motivations. Hill House is the antagonist in the novel. “It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed” (p.35).

The Impact and Legacy of Shirley Jackson’s Narrative Techniques

Shirley Jackson was an influential literary force. Her effective use of foreshadowing, through the portrayal of characters and the setting in The Lottery, provides the reader with an overwhelming sense of impending doom from beginning to end. Jackson utilizes symbolism to reflect human indecency; her most significant use of symbolism was through the representation of rose bushes and colors in The Possibility of Evil. With The Haunting of Hill House, Jackson successfully crafted a terrifying personification of a haunted house through physical description, affect, and purpose. Owing to these elements, Hill House feels alive, and its evil feels palpable.

References:

  1. Jackson, S. (1948). The Lottery. [Short Story].

  2. Jackson, S. (1965). The Possibility of Evil. [Short Story].

  3. Jackson, S. (1959). The Haunting of Hill House. [Novel].

The Metamorphosis Of A Hero: Why Is Gilgamesh An Epic Hero?

The Quest Archetype and Its Function in Different Mythologies

In Harry Potter, Harry embodies the quest to kill the Dark Lord, Voldemort. The quest archetype serves as a plot device in mythology and fiction: a difficult journey towards a goal, often symbolic or allegorical. Tales of quests figure prominently in the folklore of every nation and ethnic culture. When examining various cultural myths, the quest archetype functions within different mythologies as a method of learning about the world, both its external features and what lies within the self.

The Modern Interpretation of the Quest and Its Impact on the Hero

The quest comes from ancient origins and is found mostly in mythological culture, but it has been seen through many generations. In its most modern interpretations, extenuating circumstances or hubris place the hero in trouble, and they need to find an answer. For instance, in David Leeming’s book, Mythology: The Voyage of Life, he illustrates the points of crisis in the life of a hero.

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The Journey of the Quest and Why Gilgamesh is an Epic Hero

When he writes, “For the hero, death, like birth, is miraculous or unusual. As his birth is definitive in the extreme, so is his death, apparently so. Often, he is dismembered. In death, the hero acts, psychologically, for all of us; he becomes a scapegoat for our fear and guilt” (Leeming 8), this demonstrates the various ways in which the heroes in our stories can face the struggle and pressure of succeeding in their conquests. The quest’s multiple purposes, primarily shown through analysis, are derived from Greek mythology, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and modern media and literature. The quest archetype influences society, personifying the fears and struggles of man.

Exploring the Journeys of Gilgamesh and Odysseus and Their Lessons

These analyses show why the quest archetype has changed throughout the years, and why society deems the quest to always be perfect when, in reality, that’s not always the case. There are many ways in which a quest can be portrayed in literature. However, in most cases, the quest archetype can be widely perceived as the act or instance of looking for or seeking something. In reality, the quest can show the hardships and difficulties that the hero can face. For instance, Don Adams writes, “As with the quest for psychic wholeness, the quest for the sublime is always a failure when pursued at length. For even if found, the sublime is necessarily lost again in this time-bound world” (Adams 40). This quote shows the interesting ways in which the quest slowly shapes ignorance into enlightenment. Thus, it’s clear that the journey is important in the path to meaning. Through the journey, small lessons are individually learned and then collectively combined to create a more united vision of the world that was previously fragmented and lost in misunderstanding before the individual embarked on the quest. This creates a larger conception of the journey as the path to enlightenment, in a way that can transcend beyond other, more mundane, cultural boundaries. Truth cannot be understood all at once, and thus it is through the quest that the hero slowly learns the whole truth of the external world piece by piece.

The quest presented through mythology and other texts is shown in The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey. For instance, Gilgamesh crosses the river of death and swims to its depths in the vain hope of gaining immortality. In the Odyssey, Odysseus journeys tirelessly for ten years, fighting off monsters and temptations in the hopes of returning home. These protagonists have always been on the move. However, with each new journey, there’s a new discovery. The physical journeys that Gilgamesh and Odysseus undertake serve as a vehicle for a journey of introspection, in which the characters learn a moral lesson and attain self-knowledge. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh takes more than one epic journey. The first journey is with Enkidu, in which they leave Uruk to defeat Humbaba, guardian of the Cedar Forest. Gilgamesh proclaims, “The journey I will undergo has never been undergone before.”

Here, Gilgamesh’s words have a double meaning. The quest that he embarks on has never been performed by any man, but it also implies that he himself has never gone on a journey of self-discovery. This statement serves as an indicator of a more meaningful journey that is yet to come. Likewise, Homer’s Odyssey also has a more prominent thematic aspect. Frye then explains that “the main emphasis of Homeric criticism… has been overwhelmingly thematic, concerned with the dianoia or ideal of leadership”. But, the Odyssey’s thematic aspect is not limited to its “ideal of leadership.” On the contrary, the Odyssey can also serve as an illustrative fable. Although the many adventures of Odysseus showcase a character with supernatural qualities, the focus of the epic poem is on the numerous obstacles he overcomes in order to get back home. The emphasis is on the thematic aspect because, like Odysseus, real people overcome trials and temptations in order to achieve their objectives.

The stated task of Odysseus’ quest is to return home to Penelope, but his journey signifies much more. His real mission is to learn from his actions and mistakes. The multiple obstacles and temptations Odysseus overcomes are simply part of his learning experience. Odysseus’ descent into the underworld signifies the pinnacle moment in his introspective journey. The underworld is where he meets Teiresias, the prophet who possesses knowledge of Odysseus’ return to Ithaka. His interaction with Teiresias, where he learns not only of his past mistakes but also the challenges he will face, imparts a valuable lesson to Odysseus. Teiresias explains: “Great Captain, A fair wind, and the honey lights of home Are all you seek. But anguish lies ahead; The god who thunders on the land prepares it, not to be shaken from your track, implacable, in rancor for the son whose eye you blinded.”

It dawns on Odysseus that his voyage is being punished by the gods due to his bold actions and haughty nature. Odysseus remembers that earlier in his journey, he injured and pilfered the sheep of the Cyclopes, Polyphemus, who pleaded with his father to curse Odysseus’ voyage. Ultimately, this becomes clear to Odysseus. He realizes that to reach Ithaka, he needs to amend his behavior. Both Gilgamesh and Odysseus undertake extraordinary journeys in the texts to learn moral lessons and gain self-knowledge.

References:

  1. Leeming, D. A. (2018). Mythology: The Voyage of Life. Oxford University Press.

  2. Adams, D. (2003). The Quest for the Sublime. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 61(1), 39-51.

  3. The Epic of Gilgamesh. (Translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs). Stanford University Press.

  4. Homer. (Translated by Robert Fagles). The Odyssey. Penguin Classics.

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