“The Lottery” & The “Interrupters (2011)” Analysis: Violence – An American Tradition
Although the United States has long tried to main its self-image as a peace-loving country, however, the truth that violence is prevalent in the nation. From the Virginia Tech massacre to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, there have been countless instances of acts of violence throughout the history of the country. Richard Hofstadter in his book American Violence acknowledges that America has had a conflict-ridden history, however, but he fails to recognize our cultural traditions of violence (Muwakkil). American has its own vivid traditions of both collective and personal violence from Wild Bill Hickok, the Hatfields and McCoys to, mobsters, and serial killers. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” which graphically dramatizes general inhumanity and pointless violence, can be considered an allusion to the violence that has pervaded the United States. However, all is not lost, and director Steve James’s documentary film The Interrupters (2011) film shows us that there is still hope. Violence is embedded in American cultural traditions, and Jackson’s and James’s works suggest that we have the power to take a stand against violence not accepting them.
Shirley Jackson intentionally wrote the “The Lottery,” in such a way that it would disturb her readers, and while the story is universally relevant, it is even more relevant to the violence in the United States. The narrative of her short story is so clinically detached and the setting is eerily peaceful. For instance, the lottery takes place “on a clear and sunny [day], with fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green” (Jackson 83-84). As a result, the disturbing tone of the story is enhanced by this initial lack of violent detail. Jackson purposely leaves out pieces of details from her story, forcing her readers to make their own conclusions, and read between the lines to find meanings. This makes “The Lottery” a thought provoking story. Jackson’s story is a literary masterpiece because it raises important questions that are relatable to the American society, American traditions and the violence that is pervading it, but it does not answer these questions explicitly.
As mentioned, America seems to have its own cultural traditions of violence that have remained unexamined and unchanged (Kosenko), and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” points out the dangers of blindly following such traditions. Her short story revolves around a village lottery that ends with the violent murder of one of the villages every year. One of the hallmarks of American history is the ostentatious tradition of localism that allows individuals and local jurisdictions to settle their own matters. This localism is our constitutional right; we idolize it, and believe it is harmless. Similarly, everything seems harmless while the villagers are preparing for the lottery because Jackson does not reveal what kind of a lottery it really is. As in this small village, tradition has been endemic to the United States; it has been a way to link American families and generations. As in Jackson’s short story, Americans have allowed violence to become a part of our country’s fabric because their traditional values.
Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that Shirley Jackson was targeting an American audience and the violence of their everyday life. The story’s setting may seem vague, but is distinctly reminiscent of 20th century America. Jackson purposely places her story in a setting that would be familiar to her American audience. It a flourishing, green and warm town with familiar faces and good neighbors, much like any American neighborhood. American slang is particularly noticeable in the story in expressions such as “folks,” “your Missus,” “my old man,” and others. People in her story greet each other much like Americans do, “Hi, Steve," Mr. Summers said, and Mr. Adams said, "Hi, Joe” (Jackson 257), which would have been different if her intended audience had been Australian or British. Jackson deliberately though subtly indicates that “The Lottery” has an American setting. The disturbing thing about her short story is that this kind of violence is the idea that this kind of violence could be taking place in the United States.
Steve James’s The Interrupters (2011) can only be compared to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” to the extent that it also focuses on the violence that has pervaded the American society and this documentary film is set in single location, i.e. Chicago. Although like Jackson’s story The Interrupters (2011) reminds us of the endemic violence in America; however, it is also quite the opposite because it provides a solution to the American tradition of violence. As mentioned earlier, Shirley Jackson never explicitly answers the questions about traditional violence in society because we ourselves have the answers deep within us. Similarly, James’s documentary film also reveals that only we and we alone have the power to break the cycle of violence in our country. The film makes it apparent the only way to put an end to the violence that has been a part of American traditions and is prevalent through our society is to take a stand and find ways to ‘interrupt’ or prevent violence as the Ceasefire “violence interrupters” do in the film.
The Interrupters (2011) is a detailed and factual record of the cycle of violence that has been prevalent in Chicago over a period of one year. The film revolves around the members of Ceasefire, a Chicago-based anti-violence organization, who work as “violence interrupters.” Most of the male and female members of the Ceasefire group are former drug dealers and gang leaders who themselves at one time had participated in the brutal violence on the streets of Chicago, and now after rehabilitation are working to prevent this violence from persisting. The film paints an image of the extent and scale of violence in America, which has become a social issue. The question that this film raises is that how has this violence persisted for so long and how have we allowed it to persist. The truth that not only this film but Shirley Jackson’s short story also signifies is that it because we have allowed this violence to persist is the reason it is so prevalent in the American society.
Just like the villages allow ritual murder to become part of their town fabric by blindly accepting the tradition of the lottery, similarly we Americans have also allowed violence to become ingrained in the American society by blindly accepting our traditions of violence. However, while it is true that like the villagers in Jackson’s story, Americans too are simply not trying to change their violent ways, but Steve James’s documentary film seems to suggest that we Americans have the potential to step up and stop this violence from persisting. This does not mean that we have to literally put ourselves in harm’s way to put an end to violence. However, what we can do is build the courage like them and stop accepting the traditions that justify the violence that is prevalent in our society. If former drug dealers and gang members can give up their violent ways to stop the cycle of violence that plagues our country, then we too can give up our cultural traditions of violence.
Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a genius short story and Steven James’s The Interrupters (2011) is a thought-provoking film. Her story emphasizes on social issue of violence in the United States and raises questions regard it, while his film provides a potential underlying answer and solution to American social issue of violence. Both Jackson and James want their readers and audience to relate their works to their own lives after reading and watching them. They want Americans to look around themselves and take notice of the violence, not only violence on the streets but the violence in their own lives as well. They want us to understand that violence is not only around us but within us as well, and only we can put an end to it. With their respective works, Shirley Jackson and Steve James give us the sight to recognize this violence. Jackson tells us that we need to stand against violence, and James gives us hope by showing us how to.
Hofstadter, Richard. American Violence; A Documentary History. New York: Random House Inc., 1972. Print.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. Mankato: Creative Education, 2008. Print.
James, Steve, dir. The Interrupters. Writ. Alex Kotlowitz. 2011. Film. 1 Apr 2013.
Kosenko, Peter. "A Reading of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"." New Orleans Review. 12.1 (1985): 27-32. Print.
Muwakkil, Salim. "Getting A Handle On The American Way Of ViolenceGetting A Handle On The American Way Of Violence." Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune, 26 Apr 1999. Web. 1 Apr 2013.