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The Use of Setting in “the Lottery”

The Use of Setting in “The Lottery” and “The Rocking Horse Winner” The Lottery”, by Shirley Jackson, “The Rocking-Horse Winner”, by and D. H. Lawrence, provide two disparate uses of setting in a short story which emphasize the importance of the element in a story. One author distracts the reader, while the other establishes the framework of the story. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a troubling short story about an annual event in a small town in New England; a lottery to select who would be stoned. The townspeople come to the village central square to perform an annual ritual that seems to have gone on for a considerable number of years.

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They have an almost festive attitude while they run through their selection process, and once one of their members is identified, they seem to blissfully carry out their gruesome task without any hint of reservation or remorse. D. H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner” depicts a young boy’s uncanny ability to pick a winning horse in several very popular races around post-war England. By vigorously riding the namesake horse, Paul derives the winning horse’s name from a mysterious source that is not clearly identified.

In the most important prediction, the stress of determining the winner is too demanding, and Paul dies after making it. These distinct uses of setting by these authors emphasize the importance of the element of setting in a story. In “The Lottery”, the setting that Shirley Jackson presents seems to be an attempt to distract the reader, and set up an ironic ending. Scene is set up to be bright and cheerful. The author deliberatly describes the day as “clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day” (Jackson, p. 213).

By describing a typically peaceful, happy scene to start the story, the author has given the reader a hint that the story that follows will also be a pleasant one. As the reader progresses into the story, however, the realization of what actually is happening erodes the pleasantness. The description of the village, its buildings, and the square also build on the bright, sunny, upbeat motif. The author generates a very effective layer of irony to the story by using the setting in this way. In “The Rocking-Horse Winner”, the setting Lawrence establishes for the story provides the core framework of the story.

The real-world locations in and around London become a core part of the story. The races described are real events that would have been well-known to the original audience, which adds a great deal of detail to the story without the author having to explicitly add the extra content. An important example of this is the Aintree Grand National race, held in April since 1839 (Aintree, Para 1). By incorporating this event into the setting, Lawrence adds a considerable amount of importance to the prediction that Paul is making without having to describe that detail irectly. Because the events are real, and popular, the reader is invited to overlook the supernatural events that are taking place. In addition, Lawrence uses descriptions of the house that fit with the characters’ view that they need more than what they currently have. The apparent sparseness sets up the conflict of having to keep up appearances with their neighbors. Adding to that, the exterior description of the house, with the garden and servants, seems to describe a rather extravagant dwelling which contrasts with the parents’ incomes.

The mood shaped by the setting fits in well with the story, and helps shape the story itself. In the climactic scene it is late at night, coinciding with the end of Paul’s life. These components work together to help the author tell the tale, and by letting the reader provide the additional details about the races and locations from memory, the author pulls the reader into the story. In both stories, the setting is realistic and believable. The locations are either real-world locations, or locations that can – and likely do – exist someplace.

The similarities between the authors’ use of setting seem to end there. By diverting the reader with the setting, Jackson adds a considerable amount of shock experienced by the reader as the true nature of the events being described unfold. Strongly incorporating the setting into the story, and inviting readers to add their own details to the story by using popular locations and events, Lawrence utilizes the setting as a backbone to support the story itself, and pull the reader into the story.

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