A narrative point of view refers to what the narrator or character telling the story can see. Authors choose who is to tell the story by determining the point of view as the voice through which to tell a story. Events in a narrative can be told by characters who are involved in the narrative or from a point of view that knows and sees every character but not among them.
The point of view can be in the first person, second person, or third person, all of which are used for different effects in writing like creating tragic irony, comedic irony, and suspense among other purposes. In Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, the author uses an objective or dramatic point of view where an individual reports details in the story but the narrator does not play any role. Jackson uses this point of view to create suspense and uncertainties that endure until the story’s dramatic ending.
Shirley Jackson uses the third person point of view where characters are referred to in third person pronouns; she, he, and them. Authors use the third person objective when the perspective from which a story is narrated is like a floating camera that follows characters around. The readers do not get direct access to the characters’ emotions and thoughts other than what their actions and characters can interpret.
Since the story’s beginning, the author only reveals the knowledge about the lottery through the characters themselves. Precisely, no character mentions the lottery’s details although most express their dislike for the event particularly because they have to stop everything to take part in the process. Not many changes regarding the lottery’s knowledge are revealed even as the story progresses. All that Jackson discloses is how much people wait for their turns to draw from the black box, which creates uncertainty.
The unpredictability Jackson creates due to the lack of knowledge about the lottery is the catalyst of action as it can irritate readers for not knowing where the story is heading. However, the reader is enticed to continue reading to discover what the lottery is about. Since there could be a certainty in the ending, the reader will get the answers to the questions that develop throughout, which motivates them to proceed. The author, therefore, accomplishes the objective of providing a twist to the story that not all readers would have expected.
In addition, Jackson uses the third person point of view to create suspense. In the beginning, what first seems to be a simple but boring tradition changes into an act of viciousness. For instance, when the people stone Tessie Hutchinson, the reader has formed almost every possible idea about the lottery until this scene is struck down violently.
The author withholds explanations relentlessly and fails to reveal the lottery’s true nature until Tessie’s head is hit by the first stone. At this point, the reader learns a lot about the lottery’s importance to the villagers, especially Old Man Warner. Using the third-person point of view, the reader goes through the entire ritual, watches villagers approaching the black box to select papers, and hears names but Jackson fails to mention the purpose of the event or prize.
She withholds this information to facilitate suspense but starts to disclose that something is amiss at the beginning of the lottery when the villagers become nervous. The suspense grows when Tessie protests Bill’s ‘win’ hysterically and offers the first clue by saying, “Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones” (Jackson). By withholding these details until the end, Jackson successfully uses the third person point of view to create a powerful and shocking conclusion by building the story’s suspense.
Jackson also applies the third person point of view to provide a dramatic end to The Lottery. More specifically, the narrative defies the expectations of an ideal small town where residents enjoy peace, order, and stability. In a setting where the author can create a stable society, readers get a completely different environment with lawlessness and a savage mob, which is likely, to motivate new ideas in the readers.
At the same time, the dramatic end Jackson provides eliminates any assertions the reader makes about the villagers and the lottery while serving to promote a conclusion reflecting the new perception readers develop about the lottery and participants. The dramatic third-person point of view provides an ideal opportunity for the readers to conclude.
Albeit failing to disclose details that influence the readers’ conclusions, there is no doubt that any conclusion reflects a specific idea. For instance, as a response to the idea that other villages have abandoned the practice, Old Man Warner says, “Nothing but trouble in that…Pack of young fools” (Jackson).
The reader can draw two conclusions from Old Man Warner’s assertion; that the villagers differ on the interpretation of civilization and that there is a difference of opinions between generations and age groups. Nonetheless, the most likely conclusion is that something is amiss in this village that is yet to keep up with civilization. Due to the author’s use of suspense, the reader lacks tangible facts to foretell what happens in the end. The dramatic end delivered through the third person however provides closure to the readers who can now make informed conclusions about the lottery and the participants as it ends with Tessie Hutchinson’s pleas while the villager’s stones descend upon her.
In conclusion, Shirley Jackson uses the third person point of view in The Lottery to create uncertainties, deliver suspense, and provide a dramatic end. The innocuous details Jackson provides through this point of view do not predict anything savage or violent until later when Tessie Hutchinson’s protests about the selection foreshadow a dramatic ending.
The third-person point of view allows the author to withhold many details about the event, which allows the reader to make different conclusions until the dramatic end provides closure as well as a final and general conclusion about the lottery and the villagers.
Jackson, Shirley. “The lottery.” In the Mind’s Eye. Routledge, 2021. 43-54.