Think About It
The story of The Lottery is filled with suspense and mystery. The villagers of a small town gather together in the square on a beautiful day, for the town lottery. There are only 300 people in this village, so the lottery takes only two hours. The village children, run around collecting stones, they put some in their pockets and make a pile in the town square. Mr. Summers is one of the main characters and offers a lot of foreshadow. He runs the lottery because he has a lot of time to do things for the village. He arrives in the square with the black box, followed by Mr. Graves, the postmaster. Over years Mr. Summers always suggested they make a new box because the current one is shabby, but no one wants to change tradition. Mr. Summers did get them to replace the wood chips they usually use with slips of paper. As Mr. Summers calls their names, each member of the family comes up and draws a paper. When they open their slips, they find that Tessie has drawn the paper with the black dot on it. Mr. Summers instructs everyone to hurry up. The villagers grab stones and run toward Tessie. Tessie says “it’s not fair” and everyone begins throwing stones at her.
Many of the seemingly innocuous details throughout “The Lottery” foreshadow the violent conclusion. In the second paragraph, children put stones in their pockets and make piles of stones in the town square, which seems like innocent play until the stones’ true purpose becomes clear at the end of the story. Tessie’s late arrival at the lottery instantly sets her apart from the crowd, and the observation Mr. Summers makes—“Thought we were going to have to get on without you”—is eerily prescient about Tessie’s fate. When Mr. Summers asks whether the Watson’s son will draw for him and his mother suggests that Mr. Watson may have been last year’s victim.
Jackson builds suspense in “The Lottery” by relentlessly withholding explanation and does not reveal the true nature of the lottery until the first stone hits Tessie’s head. We learn a lot about the lottery, including the elements of the tradition that have survived or been lost. We learn how important the lottery is to the villagers. As we go through the entire ritual, hearing names and watching the men approach the box to select their papers, Jackson never tells us what the lottery is about, or the purpose. The goal of the lottery becomes sinister when Tessie protests Bill’s “winning” paper, but not fully until the moment when a rock actually hits Tessie. By withholding information until the last possible second, she builds the story’s suspense and creates a shocking, powerful conclusion.
A Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allan Poe provides a study of paranoia and mental deterioration. The narrator opens the story by telling us that he is nervous, but not mad. He says that he is going to tell a story that will defend his sanity but confess to killing an old man. His motivation wasn’t passion, money, but rather a fear of the man’s “pale blue eye.” He continuously reminds us that he is not crazy because his cool and measured actions–though criminal–are not those of a madman.
Every night, he went to the old man’s apartment and secretly watched him sleep. In the mornings he would act normal. After a week of this activity, the narrator decides he’s finally fed up and ready to kill the old man. The old man wakes up a bad dream and the narrator hears a dull pounding that he interprets as the old man’s heartbeat. Worried that a neighbor might hear the loud thumping, he kills the old man. He dismembered the body and hides it under the floorboards in the bedroom. Then the narrator hears a knock at the street door, the police have arrived. They were called by a neighbor who heard the old man shriek. The narrator tries to have small talk and appear normal. He leads the officers all over the house without acting suspicious. He even brings them into the old man’s bedroom to sit down and talk.
The policemen don’t suspect a thing. Then the narrator starts to hear a low thumping sound. He recognizes the low sound as the heartbeat of the old man. He panics, believing that the policemen must also hear the sound too and know he’s guilty. He drives himself crazy by the idea that they are mocking his agony with their pleasant chatter, he confesses to the crime and shrieks at the men to rip up the floorboards.
The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” views his hypersensitivity as proof of his sanity, not a symptom of madness. This special knowledge enables the narrator to tell this tale in a precise and complete manner, and he uses the stylistic tools of narration for the purposes of his own sanity plea. However, what makes this narrator mad—and most unlike Poe—is that he fails to comprehend the coupling of narrative form and content. He masters precise form, but he unwittingly lays out a tale of murder that betrays the madness he wants to deny.
Both stories develop a mysterious and sinister theme. In each story the fate of the characters is held in suspension until the end. Foreshadowing in the beginning of each story reveals the ending. “In the Tell-Tale Heart” the narrator is haunted by the sound of the old man’s heart. This foreshadows the ending confession. In The Lottery the focus on the stones reveals the purpose the lottery. At first the children introduce the stones. They are collecting them into a pile in the time square. This hides the malice of the real intention of the stones behind the innocence of the children. Then at the very end everyone picks up their stones and begin to throw them at Tootsie, revealing their actual purpose. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator fixates on the idea that an old man is looking at him with the “Evil Eye” and transmitting a curse on him. The narrator obsesses over the eye, he wants to separate the old man from the Evil Eye in order to spare the old man from his violent reaction to the eye. The narrator reveals his inability to recognize that the “eye” is the “I,” or identity, of the old man. During his psychiatric breakdown he’s turned the man’s damaged eye into a metaphorical “all seeing eye” what he really upset about is judgement. He feels that he can put on a mask for others and seem normal, but this eye he can’t hide from. To him, the eye sees the real him and he projects his evil onto the old man.