Monday, February 27, 2012

The Lottery

There are some commercials I can watch over and over. I am always partial to ones for Capital Credit Cards with the pillaging, banking Vikings. No matter how many times they get their Viking ship stuck in the drive through banking window- I find it funny.

And then there are commercials that have a punch line that is only a moderate hoot. After the first time the hoot decreases to a ha, and by the tenth time I'm reaching for the remote as soon as I hear the opening strains of the jingle.

The ninth grade English class is on the short story unit. I'm starting to think short stories are a lot like commercials. Very few withstand the over and over and over again test. "Thank you Mam." by Langston Hughes might be one of them. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is not.

I remember being horrified the first time I got to the end. I remember thinking what was Jackson thinking? It was in the late '60's, I was in junior high school. We had all read “Life Among the Savages,” Jackson's homage to life in the suburbs in the glory years of the second half of the twentieth century. We were all children of the years of station wagons, backyards and prosperity, Years later, I read that Jackson's literary reminisce might just have been a rather rosy version of perhaps a less idealistic “perfect post war family
But I digress. The first time I read the Lottery the ending shocked me

The twentieth time, I read it with the ninth grade last week- I was reaching for the remote. But wait- that doesn't work for short stories.
The co-teacher, the licensed English teacher who chooses the literature we read, suggested it was one of the best stories in English Literature.

I am getting more mature- I didn't disagree publicly
Then he told them there would be a test when they finished reading it.

So for the next ten minutes I watched the blank faces, I listened to the papers shuffle, I smelled nothing not the raw smell of horror in adolescents who have had already had the PE class for the day.

When the teacher suggested it was time for the quiz I suggested we ask just one question.

Raise your hand if you think the Lottery is a good thing.
Every hand rose.

I didn't think they actually read it.

So to borrow the Robert Rule's of Order Terminology (hey I was at the Union Meeting this week) I motivated the question.

I read parts aloud. I had the main teacher read parts aloud.
And then I sent them off to read the ending themselves.

The silence was palpable.
I watched the jaws drop.

And then Cherina, Ms. Flat Affect herself, looked up and said,
“That's just whack- Ms.Teacherfish, that's just whack.

I still don't like the story. I still don't think it stands the test of time.

I still think it tries to universalize the horror of the atrocities of the Holocaust by transposing it into an idealized rural village.

But that's just my opinion.
The ending still packs a punch- if you've never read it before.

And the teacher forces you to get through it.

1 comment:

  1. I read it in the ninth -- or tenth? -- grade, too and it was strong. Definitely wasn't one of my favorites.