Woman Who Won the Lottery

LORELAI: I don’t know, didn’t they feed lead to our jumping frog or something?

RORY: Oh yeah, right after they stoned the woman who won the lottery.

Rory references the 1948 short story, “The Lottery”, by Shirley Jackson. Set on a beautiful summer day in an idyllic New England village (based on Jackson’s own home of Bennington, Vermont), the story tells of an annual ritual known as “the lottery”, an old tradition carried into modern times, and seemingly practised to ensure a good harvest.

People draw slips of paper from a box, and a wife and mother named Tessie Hutchinson eventually “wins” by drawing the marked piece of paper. The entire village begins stoning her to death as she screams of the injustice of the lottery – an injustice that only bothers her when she is the scapegoat marked for death.

The story was first published on June 26 in The New Yorker, and proved so unsettling at the time that The New Yorker received a torrent of letters, the most mail they ever received about a story. Jackson herself received about 300 letters about the story that summer, much of it abusive or hate mail. (Some asked where they could go to watch the “the lottery” take place!).

Since then, “The Lottery” has been analysed in every possible literary and sociological way, its careful construction and symbolism noted, and its themes linked with everything from mob mentality, the military draft, and the death penalty. It is one of the most famous stories in American literature, often reprinted in anthologies and textbooks, and has been adapted for radio, television, film, graphic novel, and even (to Shirley Jackson’s bafflement) a ballet.

Apart from being a short story often read for high school English classes, this seems like a story Rory would enjoy. She has a taste for dark and “gloomy” themes, and is a fan of American Gothic. Like Tessie, Rory is from an idyllic New England town, and has been singled out for special treatment – but in her case, it’s to be loved and glorified by the town.

The story reminds us that even the most charming small towns have a dark side, and that includes Stars Hollow. Rory is no doubt thinking of Jess, vilified and forced to leave because of a minor car accident. (The name Jess even sounds a bit like Tessie).

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