Monday, April 16, 2012

Teaching Shirley Jackson's The Lottery

“The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them…” -Jackson, The Lottery

When the students enter class the desks are stacked against the wall. They are directed to stand in a circle in the center of the room. Rules are written on the chalkboard in white. Everyone is to wait for their name to be called, then one by one step to the middle of the class and draw a slip of paper from the black box, hold it tight in their hand, and do not open until told.
“The lottery was conducted – as were the square dances, the teen-age club, the Halloween program- by Mr. Summers, who had time and energy to devote to civic activities…” -Jackson, The Lottery

Predictions are made. Wagers placed. Nervous energy surges. “What’s the prize? A bar of chocolate?  He’s given us Hersey bars before. Maybe the winner gets McDonalds? Some teachers do that, you know?”
“Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie…” -Jackson, The Lottery

Sometimes I even play music. Vivaldi’s Flute Concerto in G minor ‘La Notte’ is succinct and pulsing. Perfect as one by one they draw their slips from the box.
“The children had stones already, and somebody gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles.” –Jackson, The Lottery

It’s a funny exercise. Students here are not used to creative activities in class, and over the last few years I’ve thrown all kinds of things at them: ‘Mock’ Salem Witch Trials, Obstacle Courses, Scavenger Hunts, Thoreau Walden Solo Camping Trips, Greek Myth Charades, Short Satire Film Projects, Interview an Elder Documentaries, once we even cleared all the desks and chairs out of the room and practiced basketball drills on the fifth floor before a rival game.  That was actually really cool!
“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.” -Jackson, The Lottery

I don’t tell them we’re going to kill the winner. I just let it unfold. Draw the slips, find the black dot, read the story aloud, let them see if for themselves. Sometimes, you just have to force kids to go through it so they know. Then they see... exactly what we do to each other for nothing.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite story here is "The Daemon Lover." Herein, Jackson offers one of the most poignant, touching looks at loneliness, desperation, and fragility I have ever read. In the story, we spend a day with the protagonist as she prepares for her wedding, having become engaged just the night before to a James Harris. It is a depressing yet beautiful story, and I actually rate it higher than "The Lottery." The character of James Harris actually flitters throughout several of these stories, a phantom of sorts haunting several of Jackson's more memorable female characters.

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