Characterization and Irony in Jackson’s The Lottery

Why has Jackson chosen common people for her characters? Could she have chosen characters from other levels of sophistication with the same effect? What is the irony of the tone of this story?

Jackson has selected commoners as main characters in her story which acts to intensify the pain hidden in it. It is not just the superstitions and the blind adherence to the customs that is at its centre; it is also how a lack of progress and education can affect people’s mindset. For this purpose she selects a remote village where such things can easily go hidden and such customs can be carried out easily. It is also why she chooses the common people and not the educated or rich for her story. Had it been the rich or the educated the story would not have looked as real. However, by making things look quite common, she also makes them look real. To add to this sense of reality she chooses to depict the people as innocent. It is till the end that the readers do not get even the faintest inkling that the lottery is a custom where people purge their evil feelings on an innocent victim.

She could have selected people from educated class or more backward like the Indians who are absolutely untouched by the light of progress.  Even then the grotesqueness would have lessened because the Indians are bound to be superstitious and that would make the plot look not so surprising.  In the other case if the characters were well educated and wise, one cannot expect them to kill. Otherwise they would be taken as clever and that would hurt the suspense. As the people in the nearby village had done, wiser people do not follow traditions that are inhuman. It is why she chooses people and settings that look common and are easy to relate with. What is most special about these common people is that they seem absolutely incapable of violence. At first they seem like ordinary people who are preparing for a festival. However, there is another reason for using common villagers that they can be sufficiently foolish to believe in such traditions. This is something that  gets clear at the end. So, using common characters from a general village also helps the author build the kind of suspense she wants.

This strengthens both the suspense in the story and the sense of irony in it. The story carries a sarcastic note and it is near the end that the author brings before the readers, the true face of the society. So, the common village is a really an uncommon one and the things are not what they look like. The truth of the people and the society can be different from what seems evident. In this way, the author strikes at both the culture and the society. She shows how much evil might be hidden in these innocent hearts that take pleasure in stoning an innocent ever year. This kind of effect could not be created had the author used a different set of characters. So, overall by bringing the uncommon out of the common, the author surprises the readers and adds a distinct flavor. On the one hand she ridicules the society and its customs, on the other she warns us against being with the herd when it is going wrong.  In this way, the story is sarcastic as well as enlightening.