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The Lottery Essay, Research Paper
This story was the first I read by O’Connor and probably my favorite to date. Every time I read it I catch myself laughing out loud at the grandmother who exemplifies southern women to a tee.
The story begins with the typical nuclear family being challenged by the grandmother who doesn’t want to take the vacation to Florida. She has read about a crazed killer by the name of the misfit who is on the run heading for Florida. Unfortunately, she is ignored by ever member of the family except for the little girl June Star who can read the grandmother like a book. The morning of the trip the grandmother is ironically dressed in her Sunday best and the first one in the car ready to travel as June Star predicted she would be. Notice the grandmother’s dress is very nice for a trip she was horrified to take only a day earlier. This is the first of O’Connor’s attempts to knock the superficialness of southern culture. The grandmother was decked in white gloves and a navy blue dress with matching hat for the sole purpose of being recognized as a lady in case someone saw her dead on the highway. This logic may seem absurd to anyone who is foreign to southern culture, but I can assure you there are plenty of women who still subscribe to this way of thinking. The reader is now clued into the grandmother’s shallow thoughts of death. In the grandmother’s mind, her clothing preparations prevent any misgivings about her status as a lady. But as the Misfit later points out,”there never was a body that gave the undertaker a tip.” The grandmother’s perceived readiness for death is a stark contrast to her behavior when she encounters the Misfit; for she shows herself to be the least prepared for death.
As the trip progresses, the children reveal themselves as brats, although funny ones, mainly out of O’Connor’s desire to illustrate the lost respect for the family, and elders.The reader should notice when the family passes by a cotton field, five or six graves are revealed, perhaps foreshadowing what is later to come. Some interesting dialogue takes place when John Wesley asks, “Where’s the plantation”, and the grandmother replies, “Gone With the Wind.” This is perhaps another statement by O’Connor at the breakdown of the family and the subsequent absence of respect and reverance for the family unit illustrated by the two children. Around this time, June Star and her brother begin slapping each other and the grandmother keeps the peace by telling them a story of a black child mistakenly eating her watermellon with initials from a suitor carved in it reading E.A.T. Now here is where I think some of the reviewers are mistaken on the grandmother’s character. They claim her story was racially motivated as well as her comment made about the “pickaninny” on the side of the road. I have read reviews saying that the grandmother is a racist; but I think it is important to make the distinction between a racist and a good-hearted ignorant white woman. In order for her comment to be racist, there must be some intent to denegrate blacks present-which there isn’t. When O’Connor interpreted this story, she told of a teacher she ran into who determined that the grandmother was evil, but that his southern students resisted his interpretation. The teacher didn’t understand why and O’Connor explained to him that the students resisted because, “they all had grandmothers or great-aunts just like her at home, and they knew, from personal experience, that the old lady lacked comprehension, but that she had a good heart…the Southerner is usually tolerant of those weaknesses that proceed from ignorance.”
The family ’s encounter with Red Sammy Butts serves as another outlet for O’Connor to express how trust and respect have begun to wear away. The reader should note the name of the town “Toombsboro” which the family passes through. It is then the grandmother makes the mistake of telling the children about a house with secret panels that is nearby. The children scream until Bailey concedes to visit the house. But the newspaper concealing the cat moves causing Pitty Sing to lurch on Bailey’s shoulder resulting in the car being overturned. Just as everyone is getting there bearings, a car slowly approaches revealing three men. When the men get out of there car, the grandmother recognizes the Misfit at once. Immediately he reveals himself to be polite and sociable and even apologizes to the grandmother for Bailey’s rudeness to her. But he also doesn’t waste any time as he asks one of his cronies to escort Bailey and John Wesley off into the woods to meet their fate.
Now here is where the fun part begins. The grandmother and the Misfit engage in a conversation which is supposed to convey a message which I believe no one person besides O’Connor will ever fully understand. I will give it my best though. At this point in the story, the reader should analyze what he knows of the grandmother’s character thus far. She will prove to be no match for the Misfit’s quick wits. After the grandmother tries to appeal to the Misfit by stating that he isn’t a bit common, he goes into a story about his family and how he was the type of child to question everything. At every plead by the grandmother, he talks about different periods of his criminal life. Nothing she has said up until this point has affected him. The Misfit’s terse responses to the grandmother’s prayer advice reveal that these two individuals are on two very different levels with concern to religion. The Misfit has a much deeper understanding of religion and his belief system than does the grandmother. O’Connor likens him to a prophet gone wrong. I prefer to liken him to the character of Kurtz in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Both of the men have the potential for greatness but as the result of seeing mankind at their worse, they have become jaded to individual suffering. As the two continue in conversation, the Misfit asks the grandmother if it seems right that Jesus was punished and he has escaped punishment. The grandmother responds in the only way she knows how to by clinging to her superficial beliefs about “good blood” and behaving as a gentleman would. She has a limited understanding of religion and cannot even begin to connect with the Misfit who by now has gone off on a tirade about how Jesus’ raising of the dead threw the world off balance. But then the grandmother observes the Misfit as he were about to cry. She reaches out to him and remarks, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children.” The Misfit, who is obviously affected, rears back and shoots her three times. I think O’Connor explains it the best when she writes,”The Grandmother is at last alone, facing the Misfit. Her head clears for an instant and she realizes, even in her limited way, that she is responsible for the man before her and joined to him by ties of kinship which have her roots deep in the mystery she has been merely prattling about so far. And at this point, she does the right thing, makes the right gesture…”
One example is the protagonist of “The Lottery”, Tessie Hutchinson. Her name is an allusion to Anne Hutchinson, the American religious dissenter who was excommunicated despite an unfair trial. Tessie questions the tradition of the lottery as well as her humble status as a wife. It is this insubordination that leads to her selection by the lottery and lynching by the angry mob of villagers.
Throughout the story, a complex social structure is revealed. Peter Kosenko writes, “[The] most powerful men who control the town, economically as well as politically, also happen to administer the lottery” (261). The villagers subscribe to a strict convention of gender roles. Whereas the boys collect stones for the lottery and the men discuss farming and other matters, the girls stand aside and the women engage in a gossip session (Lottery 292). Even the rules of the lottery itself favor a woman who knows her place and has borne several children; in a large family, each person has less of a chance of being chosen (Oehlschlaeger 268).
Kosenko describes Tessie’s defiance as follows:
Tessie’s rebellion begins with her late arrival at the lottery, a faux pas that reveals her unconscious resistance to everything the lottery stands for. . . . When Mr. Summers calls her family’s name, Tessie goads her husband, “Get up there, Bill.” In doing so, she inverts the power relation. . . between husbands and wives. . . . Her final faux pas is to question the rules of the lottery which relegate women to inferior status as the property of their husbands (264).
Thus, Tessie’s stoning is more than just the fulfillment of a ritual. The villagers are punishing Tessie for heresy in an event not unlike the Salem Witch trials.
Clara Spencer, protagonist in “The Tooth,” comes from the same breed of characters as Tessie. Eran Mukamel writes:
[Clara] escapes the repression of her family life, a repression that is represented by a toothache which has afflicted her ever since she met her husband. As Clara travels to New York City to have the tooth removed, the journey takes her farther from her home and farther from her domestic identity (n. pag.).
Clara’s pilgrimage is both a rebellion against her dull life as a homemaker and a search for a more exciting existence. She finds temporary happiness when, in a drugged daze, she comes upon a fantastic stranger who takes her to a place where she “[runs] barefoot through hot sand” (Lottery 286). It is left to the reader to decide whether this fantasy world is truly the utopia Clara seeks or a hell where she is to be punished for her sedition.
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