Friday, June 23, 2017

Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

Shirley Jackson's story "The Lottery" elicited many responses from readers when it was first published in the New Yorker in June of 1948. Jackson received about 150 letters that summer alone, and many more in the years to come. The majority of these letters were neither positive nor negative in tone.  They were instead expressions of bafflement concerning the message Jackson was trying to convey.

According to an excellent new biography of Jackson, Shirley Jackson: a Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin (Liveright Publishing, 2016), a New Yorker staffer named Kipp Orr was charged with replying to these readers. Franklin's book has the following excerpt from the standard letter Orr sent to readers:

"It seems to us that Miss Jackson's story can be interpreted in a half dozen different ways. It's just a fable ... she has chosen a nameless little village to show in microcosm, how the forces of belligerence, persecution, and vindictiveness are in mankind, endless and traditional, and that their targets are chosen without reason."

I love both Orr's use of the New Yorker editorial voice, ("it seems to us") and his assertion of "a half dozen" different interpretations. No more and no less?!?  I'm looking forward to hearing how many we can come up with this Monday evening, at the Huntington Public Library.