Foreshadowing is a literary technique that Authors use to hint at what is to come later in the story. It can be done subtlety or more blatantly, but it’s purpose is always to give the reader a “heads up” about something that will happen. In Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery”, she uses foreshadowing extensively to create a sense of unease and dread in the reader.
One of the first instances of foreshadowing occurs when Mrs. Hutchinson rushes into the square, late for the lottery. She is scolded by her husband and the other villagers, and we get a sense that there is something not quite right about this annual event.
As the story progresses, the foreshadowing becomes more overt. We learn that the winner of the lottery is stoned to death by the other villagers. The fact that this is done in the name of tradition makes it even more chilling.
The foreshadowing in “The Lottery” creates a sense of unease and dread in the reader, which is fitting given the story’s shocking ending.
Jackson extensively foreshadows the reader that despite the town’s festive occasion, there is something dark and portentous about the lottery. She uses specific examples along with ominous diction to gradually create a sense of unease in the reader.
The first hint that something is not right with the lottery comes when Mrs. Hutchinson arrives late. The readers are told that she “usually came early,” which foreshadows that her tardiness will have negative consequences. This is later seen to be true when she is the one who gets stoned at the end of the story.
Another example of foreshadowing occurs when Mr. Summers asks, “Got everything you need, Tessie?” This question takes on a different meaning once it is revealed that Tessie’s family will be the ones who have to sacrifice a member to the lottery.
The use of foreshadowing in “The Lottery” creates an atmosphere of unease and tension, hinting to the reader that something bad is going to happen. This makes the story all the more shocking and disturbing when the true nature of the lottery is revealed.
The very first sign that the day’s lottery was going to be strange were the little boys shoving rocks into their pockets (422). Most people today would find that a bit odd, which goes to show just how different this town’s lottery is compared to what we’re used to.
This is the first time the reader sees that something may be not quite right about this lottery. The second clue that something is off coming when Mr. Summers says that Tessie Hutchinson is “lucky” for being late and getting a chance to pick her paper out of the black box (423). Of course, the reader does not know what the contents of the papers are, but because Mr. Summers mentions luck, it can be inferred that whoever has the marked paper will not want it.
When Old Man Warner states that “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon,” (425) he is directly foreshadowing the outcome of the story. He is saying that whoever gets stoned during the lottery will die, and their death will ensure a good crop.
The final, and most direct, foreshadowing occurs when Tessie Hutchinson draws the marked paper out of the black box. Mrs. Delacroix faints and Mr. Summers says, “It’s all over,” (427). The reader finally understands that this is not a normal lottery where someone wins a prize, but rather a sacrificial killing in order to bring about a good harvest. All of the foreshadowing throughout the story culminates in this final, horrific scene.
Despite her protests, Tessie Hutchinson is stoned to death by her friends and neighbors because she drew the marked paper out of the black box during the town’s annual lottery. Foreshadowing was used throughout the story to give hints as to the true nature of the lottery and the gruesome outcome.
The men’s body language communicates that the stones are not a happy part of the day’s events. This reveals to readers that there is something important, yet dark about the pile of rocks.
The story’s final line, “The lottery was conducted–as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program by Mr. Summers,” is particularly telling (424). The placement of the word “Halloween” in this sentence is important, as it is a holiday known for its dark elements. This line lets us know that, despite the facade of normalcy surrounding the lottery, there is something very wrong going on.
The men told jokes, but they only smiled — no laughs. If the lottery was a carefree event, then the men would have had no problem with cracking up. The description of their actions paints a picture of how seriously everyone takes the lottery; it’s not about joking around.
Moreover, the men’s ages are not provided. This could be to show that the lottery is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation and that anyone, no matter their age, can be chosen for the sacrifice. The women in the story are also not spared from the ominous foreshadowing. Although they initially talk about “planting and rain, tractors and taxes” (422), the mood changes when Delacroix arrives late with his daughter.
The women immediately stop talking and stare at her. Even before Old Man Warner says anything, the reader gets a sense that something is not right. All of these details work together to create a sense of unease and dread, which is ultimately realized when it is revealed that the lottery is a sacrificial ritual in which one person is stoned to death.
The foreshadowing in “The Lottery” is essential to the story’s impact. Without it, the shocking ending would not be nearly as effective. The use of foreshadowing allows the reader to slowly piece together what is happening, and the result is a feeling of unease and horror.
Throughout “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson employs foreshadowing to give readers a sense that the villagers will probably go on with the tradition of the lottery. For example, Mrs. Adams remarked, “The black box now sitting on the stool had been used even before old man Warner was born” (Jackson).
This suggests that the lottery has been around for a long time, and is likely to continue being around. Furthermore, after Tessie Hutchinson is chosen as the winner of the lottery, she protests and says, “It wasn’t fair…you didn’t give anyone else a chance” (Jackson). This shows that Tessie knows that the lottery is not fair, but she still goes along with it.
This further proves that the villagers are likely to continue the tradition of the lottery because they do not seem to question its fairness. Lastly, Jackson writes, The children had stones already in their hands when Mr. Summers spoke…and then they began to search for more stones (Jackson).