Foreshadowing in the Lottery by Shirley Jackson: a Literary Analysis

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Foreshadowing in the Lottery by Shirley Jackson: a Literary Analysis

This essay will analyze the use of foreshadowing in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” It will explore how Jackson subtly sets the stage for the shocking conclusion, examining key elements that hint at the story’s dark turn. The piece will discuss the effectiveness of foreshadowing in building tension and delivering the story’s message. You can also find more related free essay samples at PapersOwl about The Lottery.

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Shirley Jackson: Master of Horror and Foreshadowing

Shirley Jackson is a renowned American author known for her horror and Gothic novels and short stories. Her portfolio includes three unique novels – The Lottery, The Possibility of Evil, and The Haunting of Hill House. She masterfully creates her narratives using various writing techniques, including foreshadowing, symbolism, and personification.

Dreadful Anticipation: Foreshadowing in The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Shirley’s stories abound with foreshadowing, particularly in “The Lottery”. In this short story, every year on June twenty-seventh, the members of a traditional community gather to conduct a village-wide lottery in which everyone is expected to participate.

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Throughout the story, the reader picks up on clues and red flags that create an odd, unsettling feeling regarding the townspeople and the purpose of the lottery. Only at the end is the reader informed of the true nature of the lottery. Shirley Jackson employs foreshadowing when writing about one of the traditions related to the lottery: “The boys followed, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones” (p.1). This mysterious act of selectively choosing the rocks makes one wonder why the boys are doing this so deliberately. This can be considered foreshadowing as it implies that the stones will play a critical role soon. As the story progresses, each successive paragraph contains hints about what is to be revealed.

After the children, men begin to fill the square, followed by the women. “They stood together, away from a pile of stones in the corner” (p.1). The fact that the people in the story stand apart from the stones once again suggests to the reader that the stone will play a significant role. Unease among the parents becomes apparent when the children show reluctance to join their parents at the square. At this point, there is a sense that the outcome of the lottery will not be pleasant. On an initial read, the reader may not notice the foreshadowing until they reread the story. The remainder of Jackson’s foreshadowing is employed to build suspense. For example, the villagers appear anxious when their names are called, as if they expect something terrible to happen. These various clues—the unsettled feelings among the crowd, the significance of the stones, and the unusual structure of the lottery process—all indicate that this is no ordinary lottery.

Symbols and Deception in Jackson’s The Possibility of Evil

In the short story “The Possibility of Evil,” Jackson portrays three different instances of symbolism. The first symbolism emerges at the beginning of the story when Ms. Strangeworth is introduced as a kind elderly woman living on Pleasant Street. Known by everyone, she projects a sweet exterior, akin to observant roses representing her. Over time, however, she proves not as nice and lovely as she initially appears. Ms. Strangeworth sends hurtful messages to her unsuspecting neighbors daily, under the impression that she is protecting the town from evil. Ironically, she is the very epitome of evil. Just as a rose, while appearing lovely and pretty, possesses thorns that may sometimes hurt. For Ms. Strangeworth, these metaphorical thorns were initially invisible to the public, enabling her to harm others without detection. Later in the story, it is revealed that her roses range in hues of red, white, and pink.

Color symbolism further enhances the story, with red roses typifying passion, pink gratitude, and white purity— all vital emotions for a pleasant life. Early in the story, Ms. Strangeworth muses, “The roses belonged on Pleasant Street, and it bothered Ms. Strangeworth to think of people wanting to carry them away” (p.1). Here, Jackson implicitly links these symbolic hues to Ms. Strangeworth’s obsession with perfection. The naming of her residence as Pleasant Street underscores her penchant for pleasantness and flawlessness. However, her yearning for perfection ironically conflicts with the emotions the roses represent. The story presents further symbolism through the letters Ms. Strangeworth writes to her neighbors, brightly colored in yellow, green, pink, and blue. Their vibrant exterior belies the malicious content concealed within, a parallel to Ms. Strangeworth herself. Her character reiterates the proverbial wisdom: “don’t judge a book by its cover,” a testament to the deceptive nature of appearances.

Shirley Jackson’s Haunting Personification in The Haunting of Hill House

“The Haunting on Hill House” is a peculiar, supernatural novel that combines science fiction with horror, in which Jackson’s use of personification is quite fascinating. In the novel, a group of four people agree to stay in Hill House, an abandoned residence with a long history of dark events. Jackson successfully uses personification in the novel by attributing evil and disturbing physical qualities to Hill House. He compares Hill House to the appearance of a wicked, evil person, giving a detailed and disturbing description of the house: “No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house … more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice” (p.14).

Even the characters in the novel perceive the evil personification of the house. Jackson uses personification to describe inanimate objects. He details almost all aspects of Hill House and its surrounding vicinity in such a way that nearly everything in the novel is personified. One such example is the line, “Why so many odd little rooms?… Maybe they liked to hide from each other” (p.45). Here, Jackson personifies the rooms by attributing to them the characteristic of hiding from each other. Another instance of personification in the story lies in the fact that Jackson is not only creating a setting but also a character with evil intentions and motivations. Hill House is the antagonist in the novel. “It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed” (p.35).

The Impact and Legacy of Shirley Jackson’s Narrative Techniques

Shirley Jackson was an influential literary force. Her effective use of foreshadowing, through the portrayal of characters and the setting in The Lottery, provides the reader with an overwhelming sense of impending doom from beginning to end. Jackson utilizes symbolism to reflect human indecency; her most significant use of symbolism was through the representation of rose bushes and colors in The Possibility of Evil. With The Haunting of Hill House, Jackson successfully crafted a terrifying personification of a haunted house through physical description, affect, and purpose. Owing to these elements, Hill House feels alive, and its evil feels palpable.


  1. Jackson, S. (1948). The Lottery. [Short Story].

  2. Jackson, S. (1965). The Possibility of Evil. [Short Story].

  3. Jackson, S. (1959). The Haunting of Hill House. [Novel].

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Foreshadowing in The Lottery by Shirley Jackson: A Literary Analysis. (2023, Aug 01). Retrieved from