Thoughts: The Lottery and The Tell-Tale Heart

Thoughts: The Lottery and The Tell-Tale Heart


Alright, if you’re keeping up that means
that you read this week stories which is–
which are “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and “The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
which would have been good Halloween
stories. I should have thought out the
schedule a little bit better. These stories are probably — they’re a little bit different
than the other stories you’ve read. The other stories were very involved with
character and character psychology
leading to a climactic decision point,
which we we’ve been writing about. These
two stories are a bit more about specific
effect and a kind of a tone. Let’s start
with “The Lottery.” I think “The Lottery” is
a little bit different kind of story. In
terms of plot, in “The Lottery” I think the
climactic moment is pretty much the last
sentence of the story, so there is no
falling action. There is no resolution. We
don’t know what happens really.
Jessie hutchinson is not much of a
protagonist in comparison to the other
protagonists we’ve had. I cant say she’s a
good guy–she doesn’t seem to oppose the
lottery. I don’t know anything Tessie
thinks or feels in that entire story. Again,
comparing to other protagonists, all of
the other protagonists have some kind of
interior life where the author tells us their
thoughts. Tessie, I don’t know what she
thinks.She’s really just sort of a
cardboard figure that moves around and
eventually is caught up in this
lottery, so in the end of that
it comes down to ‘what does
Shirley Jackson want us to think?’ What is
she–? She’s trying to make a point, and to
make that point she’s written what I
would call a realistic fantasy. It’s realistic
in the way that people treat each other
and the descriptions, but there’s one
single fantasy element, which is that this
town in New England somewhere is still
doing this barbaric ritual. So “The Lottery”
is more for effect and to make you think than maybe it is about observing character. Now
“Tell-tale Heart” is really kind of the same thing.
Edgar Allan Poe, this is the way he
wrote stories. He’s a very early short
story theorist, which means that at the
time he wrote this there weren’t a lot of
people writing short stories, and he
bothered to come up with a short
story theory. He said a short story, to be
officially a short story, has to achieve a
single emotional effect, and every single
sentence should be devoted to that effect. I
think
you’d have to say the effect for “Tell-tale
Heart” is probably shock or terror or
horror, and even the very first
sentence begins that idea. You know
that the narrator is going to murder the
old man, and you don’t really know why. The narrator’s
just got a grudge against him for no
reason, and its horrible. It’s horrible to
watch him do what he does to the old man, but would be even more horrible–and this
is what Poe is getting at– is if he does it
all for no reason at all,
just because the narrator himself is
insane and has assumed some kind of a problem
between him and the old man when none
really exists. In fact, the evidence in
the story shows us the old men
treats him very well. So in this story you
have a narrator who you can’t really
trust that well, and the story does reach
a climax, but again I think its a climax
where in the last you’re in the climax of
the story.
No falling action, no resolution. So a
little bit different stories. In both
cases you know we’re using these stories
to explore the idea of theme: what is the
author trying to get across? In both
stories the first thing is sort of this
emotional reaction of horror or shock, but beyond that it’s trying to make you think
about either about society in “The
Lottery” or maybe about feelings of guilt
and insanity in “Tell-tale Heart”. OK, that’s it!

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