In a bit of bingo logistics, I decided a couple short stories might be in order to fill in as many remaining squares as I could. With that in mind I went down the list of things I’ve been meaning to read anyway and came across “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson which has quite the history of making people question its place in front of readers at all.
What I didn’t know was just how short it really is – its only 3,773 words long! But, as I sat reading the story that has been credited with spawning so many other works of short horror I tried to put myself in the mind’s eye of someone who was picking up The New Yorker in June 1948, the sneaking feeling that something wasn’t quite right, and finally the shock and distaste as the details suddenly come together in the mind’s eye. While I can’t say that this is a great literary work of any length, I can see why its pacing and content crossed with setting unsettled so many readers and eventually led it to gain infamy for being routinely banned by public schools.
Famously this short story came together for Jackson in one afternoon and was immediately picked up by The New Yorker and published three weeks later. I can see where this work was quickly written and published, its characters are flat and the plot is very sparse. It functions at its best as a snapshot of a slightly skewed parallel world asking us to think about how we might be viewed from the outside. What terrible things have become mundane in our own lives? But I promise you that you will never care less about the description of a plain black box.
My favorite bit of Jackson trivia surrounding the reception and banning attempts of the short story are about its banning in apartheid era South Africa. Jackson is said to have commented that at least they understood the story was not saying nice things about blindly following tradition, and that wasn’t good for the powers that were.
Bingo Square: Banned Books