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Study Questions: What's In a Lottery Box?


"Even then, that early, I knew I was in the presence of 'one of those things,' one of those things that provided a glimpse, through a rent [i.e., torn] curtain, at another world that we could not affect but that affect us." — Louis Gates Jr.
"The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here. Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything’s being done. The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained." — Jackson

In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," Jackson implies that the original purpose of the box—and, therefore, the lottery—is no longer germane to the town's reasons for the annual ritual.  In your opinion, is this the same as "one of those things" to which Henry Louis Gates, Jr. refers in "What's In a Name?"  Why, or why not?  Which character in "The Lottery" is receiving a "glimpse, through a rent curtain

Gates says at the end of "What's In a Name?" that he never again met Mr. Wilson's gaze.  Is this an act of defiance on Gates's part to deny Wilson the power to create his identify, or is Gates's confessing to us that he has given Mr. Wilson the power to shape his identity by ignoring it?  Is not looking into someone's eyes the same as not meeting their gaze?  Why, or why not?  What, exactly, makes Gates's father silence his son?  Is it the same thing, or different, that makes people in "The Lottery" pick up a rock and stone Tessie, despite the fact that she was moments ago a beloved neighbor?


"The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few
pebbles." — Jackson

Jackson never identifies who, exactly, put those pebbles in little Davy's hand, but in doing so, it is implied that future generations of Lottery participants are being groomed at even this early age.  What does this reveal to you about the nature of intolerance and oppression?  Do you feel that Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was being groomed in any way by his father's reactions and later his mother's words?  Using these two stories as examples, come to a consensus about four or five major factors perpetuating oppression.  What cultural, sociological, or psychological factors or forces are at work persuading people to become oppressors and collaborators, even when that's not how they might self-identify?

Even though one is autobiographical and the other is strictly fictional, the situations of "What's In a Name?" and "The Lottery" both reference the same  period in American history: the mid-twentieth century.  Narratively, both depend on the perspective of children to reveal a central issue or truth.  Both conclude, not with resolution to the injustice, but rather with an image of its perpetuation.   In what ways are both these stories relevant today?  Discuss how, both, Gates's story and Jackson's story might relevantly illustrate and explain the phenomenon of one present day intolerance or oppression.

Last Updated: 01/15/2016


Karl J. Sherlock
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