Listen now : "The Lottery"
OR Read it here
By Shirley Jackson
In The New Yorker
Genre: Science Fiction
"The Lottery" is, of course, a very famous story. Even people who don't usually read SF might remember this creepy tale from their school days. It has had an influence on people like Stephen King.
And no wonder. In Stephen King's novel, Salem's Lot, much of the horror does not come from the outside. The final battle is fought with against a vampire, but the horror was already in the town long before the vampire moved in. Murder, hypocrisy, little town secrets, all this was where the real horror was woven from.
"The Lottery" was published in The New Yorker in 1948, between the Second World War and the oncoming cold war of the fifties. The cold war was a strange time marked, as some of us may be old enough to remember, by a rigid insistence on social conformity behind which lay a fear that difference would lead to Communism and a betrayal of all that was known and good.
"The Lottery" drops right into this. The most obvious point is that none of the characters in the story ever question "The Lottery." Much of the ritual has been forgotten, along, apparently, with the reason for doing it, and other parts of been discontinued or changed, but to stop it all together is just crazy talk.
Most horrifying of all is the readiness with which the people, who all know each other well, as they would in a small town where they went to school together and grew up together, will turn on someone.
This link to A M Homes' reading of The Lottery in The New Yorker includes a before and after discussion of the story. During the after discussion it is mentioned that these days the story might have been lost in the SF ghetto at the back of the book stores. The stratification of books for marketing purposes actually makes it hard for people who just want to find good, well written stories.