If you have never read Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery, it really is a must. I first read it in junior high school and then again in college. It is still one of my favorite stories and has influenced some of my own fiction writing.
Due to my admiration of Ms. Jackson’s work, I include this story in my creative writing class at the university. This last week, I wanted students to analyze the story, but knowing that no one read it, I had them take turns reading out loud 2 paragraphs at a time. After each reading, we had a discussion of the setting, the characters, the time period, and all of the elements we had studied thus far in the textbook. I involved them in sharing what brought them to the conclusions they voiced. Initially, I was pleased with the responses, their take on the story.
By about the 10th paragraph or soon thereafter, when I opened it up for questions about the section just read, the responses ranged from “I’m bored”, or “There are too many characters, so I don’t care about them” or “Can’t we get to the point and stop rambling?” This was like putting a knife in my heart, since I felt like this was a personal treasure being shared with people I cared enough about to so. However, they not only snubbed my gift, but they denigrated it also. I was devastated and flummoxed as I had used this story in years past with much different results.
Around the middle of the story, when questioned, the student response was that this must have been taken from The Hunger Games. There were so many similarities between the two storylines. Well, this is true, but I bit my tongue. OUCH! That really hurt.
When we reached the end of the story, there was no doubt in some minds that this was a rip-off of The Hunger Games. This was my AH-HA! moment. I announced this story was first published in the June 26, 1948 issue of The New Yorker. It gave me some satisfaction to say that The Hunger Games may have been inspired by Shirley Jackson, not the other way around.
Still, this got me to thinking as I reiterated this story to a couple of friends. What occurred to me was that when I started teaching here 11 years ago, less than 2% of the students owned a computer of any type. Now, 100% of them not only have computers, but smartphones as well. There is no longer awe for the classics, as The Lottery falls into this category. Actually, one student had the audacity to say “Maybe it’s a generational thing that you like it.” To this I wanted to respond that perhaps it was a matter of taste and class. Damn, my tongue hurts from repeated biting.
It seems that even Hungarian students are no longer satiated without the bells, whistles, video, and all of the other accoutrements of the Internet or entertainment sources. If it was not created in the last five years, it cannot possibly be of any value for their education.
It is just about time for me to hang up my piece of chalk and call it a career.