The Lottery and Jim and Mary G

I reread Shirley Jackson famous/infamous short story “The Lottery” this morning (you can find the full text here) and was struck by this passage, about 2/3 the way through:

“They do say,” Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery.”

Old Man Warner snorted. “Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,” he added petulantly. “Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody.”

“Some places have already quit lotteries.” Mrs. Adams said.

“Nothing but trouble in that,” Old Man Warner said stoutly. “Pack of young fools.”

The story (not this particular passage as such) reminded me of a relatively obscure story by James Sallis, a one time SF writer (albeit in the soft, ‘new wave’ fashion of the late ’60s) called “Jim and Mary G”, that first appeared in one of Damon Knight’s Orbit anthologies — you can read it via a Google Books excerpt.

“It’s best this way,” she said. “He won’t have to suffer. It’s the only answer.”

What’s similar about the two stories is that in each case there’s some unspoken justification for the rules of society or behaviors of the characters, that play out in ways that are deeply unsettling to contemporary readers looking in on those societies. (In the Library of America’s Shirley Jackson volume, there’s an essay by the author about that story and the reactions it provoked from readers of The New Yorker, where it first appeared in 1948, reactions mostly along the lines of “I’m cancelling my subscription!” and “How dare you?”, and a few such as “Are there actual places where kind of thing happens?”, but virtually none of them infering any kind of insight about the assumptions of society that they obviously felt so violated. And I dimly recall there being shocked reader reactions to Sallis’ story too.)

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