Week 1 Discussions


08-06-2008 01:35:01

Consider this course a literature review. Because weíre going to spend much of this time reviewing short stories by the most celebrated and lauded writers of the English language. This might be a course for a Star Wars club, but the key to better writing isnít in reading the schlock that clutters most of the Science Fiction and Fantasy aisles of the local Barnes & Noble. Very little of that, in fact, has any redeeming literary quality. And this statement probably annoyed many of you. Tough.

What we are going to do is take apart some of the very best offerings of the last one-hundred and fifty or so years. Before we can do that, however, we have to answer one very crucial question. What is literature?

Think about that for a second. What is literature? Is a book literature? And if a book is literature, then are all books literature? What about magazines? Pamphlets?

Maybe literature is something that sparks thought and cohesive rationale? If thatís the case, what about movies? Music? The guy on 42nd Avenue screaming at the top of his lungs about the global conspiracy to make masturbation illegal?

We havenít the time to consider or even discuss all these points, and perhaps each point does have a valid defense as literature. For our purposes, we will narrow our focus to the written word. Of about 5,000 to 15,000 words in length. And each piece we study will have a theme, a plot, characters, an antagonist, a protagonist, a setting, a conflict, a climax and a resolution. And each piece is carefully considered, laid out and arranged by each writer. Nothing, you will see, happens by accident in literature. And in short stories, this is especially true. There is no wasted word, you donít have time to go into long, rote descriptions of some piece of forgotten history just because you can. Every word is conserved.

You have your assigned readings for the week. So, read on. And to kick off this weekís round of discussion, I will simply ask: when do these take place and how do you know?

Traan Reith

08-06-2008 21:50:12

When looking at it with the specific questions of when does it happen, and how do you know, the thing I find helps is to look for period specific clues. The third paragraph, first line, it says "Soon the men began to gather, surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes". This dates it to after the Depression for sure, because that's about the time in which tractors became widespread in use both due to price and distribution.

We know that it happens in the summer, specifically on June 27th, because the date is mentioned both by the narrator in the very first line, and again by Mrs. Hutchinson as she arrives in the square in the 8th paragraph.

We also know that it starts at 10AM, as mentioned by the narrator, and is expected to end about noon or 12PM, again because the narrator says that the small size of the village makes it possible to run through in about two hours. All of this is said in the opening paragraph.

Beyond that, It's hard to date it to a specific year or decade because there isn't much in the way of clues to date it further.

~Tra'an Reith


08-06-2008 23:21:00

I would say that this story is based around the 1940's time era.
In the 1940's towns peoples would gather around their town squares and participate in cash drawings, in which they would, as the wikipedia says "Drum up businesses for local merchants." That being said, it was also stated that the author, Shirley Jackson, Based her story off of her home town in Bennington, Vermont US along with it being published in 1948' giving the author plenty of time to have witnessed a 'Cash Lottery' herself, as what might have made her compelled to write such a story.

Just so everyone knows, I am not exactly sure, but yes, my guess would be the 1940's. If anyone can post a controversial statement, I would love it.



09-06-2008 00:34:49

Jackson did say it was based on her home town, but she always refused to state when it took place. Each time I've read The Lottery, I've pictured it in the 1700s, 1800s, 1990s, etc. You can easily transplant the images.

What about Oats' story? Ideas on date there?


09-06-2008 18:35:51

I'm loving this, it's giving off a firm feeling of a classic 50's diner. The whole way it's described, the girl. From her clothing, to her walk. Her pull over sweater, and the way she just idly skips down the road.

Oats mentions "Cruising cars", this is probably what gave it away the most. Like a good old fashioned mom and pop malt shop. This "drive-in restaurant" literally screams mid to late 50's. As for location, it's most defiantly a small suburban town.


09-06-2008 20:45:00

Nice observation, so what does it mean? Why is this specific period/setting used?


09-06-2008 20:52:42

I agree, it's got that Happy Days period feeling. The description of what Arnold Friend is wearing, "tight faded jeans and a white pull-over shirt", is completely Greaser/Fonze style. And also the inclusion of Ellie's transistor radio, been a while since someones bragged about something like that. :P


09-06-2008 20:58:51

Why that time period?

It was a more trusting time. People didn't lock their doors and were kind to strangers instead of suspecting everyone could be an ax murderer. It was the time before Serial Killers were making the news. Hence a more innocent time.


09-06-2008 22:46:41

I think that the story by Jackson, The Lottery, has a bit of an older feel than the 1940's, this doesn't seem like the kind of town that would be trying to rebound and move forward after the difficulties of the Depression, so I think it would take place before, despite the tractor discrepancy.

The Lottery was a very strange story, in my opinion, and it is difficult to place a more exact date on it. All we have are the inner feelings and subconcious thoughts triggered by certain words the author uses. My best guess would be the 1920's.

In the short story written by Oates, I think that there is little doubt that it took place in the 1950's. The description of the "drive-in restaurant" shaped like a pop bottle with a boy holding a hamburger sounds exactly like a 1950's teen hangout.

However...there was one thing that threw me off. Bobby King. Connie was listening to him on the radio, and chatted with Arnold Friend about him for a bit. Bobby King wasn't born until 1944. Hmm...was he singing on the radio at the age of six, and already called "great"? I doubt that.

For this reason, I will have to conclude that the story by Oates was based in the 1970's, particularly after 1973. King's music first started to gain popularity in 1973. There was also a sort of "Greaser" revival in the 70's, which could maybe fit the appearance of a 50's time period.

I think this time period was chosen to reflect the way teens acted at the time of these subcultural revolutions, leading to vulnerabilities and newfound strengths. The way Connie was portrayed fit the bill of the time period perfectly.


10-06-2008 00:51:27

"Where are you going," was actually inspired by these murders. Oates actually wrote it after those articles. That will give you a more definite date.

What I hope is, both these stories highlight setting for you. Could Oates' story have worked today? Probably not. The Lottery is a bit more ambiguous, and it works that way. You could conceivably put the farm town in most any period.

What else do you guys notice? Similarities? Details in another? What stands out and what confuses?


10-06-2008 17:30:10

One of the things I noticed about the Lottery was the way it seemed to develop the feelings of some sort of gathering which would end with someone winning, whereas the reality was in fact quite different.

For example, even with the title we are presented by something which generally ends with someone being better off. In my experience (and my understanding) a lottery is generally something you win and not lose, as the case seems to be in the story on show here. As we move into the story, it begins by depicting a sunny June morning, children playing and gathering rocks, defending them in what originally seems an innocent game. We read of how the adults slowly arrive as the time for the lottery draws near and they act as though it is a regular tombola-type lottery.

The story moves on to the moments before the draw is set to commence, during which time we get an inkling of the time period by the way in which the women seem to be very much less influential and powerful than their husbands, showing us it must have been quite far back at the very least.

As the draw begins, we can almost feel the anticipation seeping from the crowd thanks to the way in which it is written. As it finishes and it is revealed who has the Ďwinningí slip, I felt as though something was different to what I had expected when the person who had received the Ďwinningí slip began to argue and cry foul play. This feeling of confusion and ill-ease was compounded as the draw went into the next stage and we find out that Tessie is the one with the marked slip. This all culminates in her death (i assume), something I really wasnít expecting when I began reading the story. It was, in my opinion, quite a twist from what I was expecting and made me want to go back through the story several times to see if anything changed with the benefit of hindsight.

So yeah, the story really threw me with the ending. It wasnít what I was expecting, but that is not a bad thing by any means. Hopefully this hasnít been drivel and Iíll post again soon when Iíve been able to look at the other story a bit more.


10-06-2008 23:09:21

I completely agree with Zandro on this matter. Everything about the Lottery, until the final few paragraphs, indicated a happy ending, the perfect tale to tell sitting around a fireplace after a family dinner. However, into the final few paragraphs, a faint feeling of something awry was felt through the author's words.

Also, in the story by Oates, there is a bit of the same style, only to a slightly lesser degree. The majority of the short story is about Connie and her life, and the life she lives. The only indication of something negative, some unexpected ending, is in the parking lot of the burger joint where Arnold Friend says that he is going to get Connie.

The rest of the story, until the final bits where Arnold Friend is very suggestive and aggressive, are written without indication of what is to come. I didn't really recognize the similarity of that style between the two stories until I reread them.

I intend to reread the stories again this evening, and try and look for further details and elements I missed the first two times.


11-06-2008 17:36:13

I'm kind of mixed on the Lottery. It left me with a sort of hollow feeling towards the end. I guess it can be explained like the above poster said, something felt out of place. Though I have to say, I can also imagine this being in practically any time setting. Though for me I liked to envision it a couple decades after Oate's story, so of course I'm a bit thrown off by that. They're two completely different stories.

But what gets me though, is why the two are matched up. I don't find either really similar.


11-06-2008 19:29:42

At first, I'd like to describe my thought about when the stories have taken place (sorry for the lateness).

The Lottery-Shirley Jackson
In my opinion, the time setting of "The Lottery" truly depends on the reader's mind. As long as the calendar date has June 27th, the sky is clear and sunny, a village with blossoming flowers and green grass, around ten o'clock in the morning, and people in the village who accept the lottery for their annual celebration [paragraph 1], and viola, the story begins. The story itself is not a true story and apparently not intended to be one, it is emphasized by Jackson's refusal to mention when the exact time the story has happened, but who knows? Maybe she has witnessed the real event in such area within her life time before she started to put the idea sequence into the paper, though this is just a mere assumption.

Aditionally, the village itself doesn't have a name. Shirley lets us to build our imagination freely of when and where the conditional story happens. So if the Course Teacher guided us that he could see it occur in 1700s, 1800s or 1990s, perhaps I could also dream the story to take place in 2008, or maybe 2100, or 3000 (As long as the people still have Halloween). Culture sometimes rotates back to the past and marks the change as a trend to follow. Shall it happen to a certain place in America continent? Europe? Australia? Africa, Asia? We can even think that it may happen outside our world. A cool time setting Shirley has provides us though.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?- Joyce Carol Oates

The second story needs more effort to collect the condition requirements to set the time. A bit different point of view compared to the first story, the time setting of this Oates'story focuses on some days of Connie's in her fifteen years old [par 1], mid summer [par 6] July [par 10], Sunday [par 11] and a night before Sunday [par 6]. Oates gives more strictly about the possibility of time setting since several conditional place included : shopping plaza and parking lot [par 5, 8], a movie (theather) [par 6], a drive-in restaurant [par 6], the ranch house [par 12], Bobby King song [par 13], transistor radio [par 13, 31, 37], jeans clothing [par 47]. From the wiki [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where_Are_You_Going%2C_Where_Have_You_Been%3F] although this story was much inpired by Charles Schmid's murders in Tucson, Arizona around 1964s and 1965s and this story was first published in 1966. So, perhaps this story could happen between 1960s to 1980s. Although it's still possible to happen in 1990s or 2000s if we talk about the possibility of the cycle of cultural trends (if transistor radio is replaced by mini radio / Ipod or alike, etc).

Both stories have some similarities on how they build time setting, and not intended to be the true story (no exact dates placed in the story and if they go to be the adapted movies, the note of 'any similarity to persons and events are coincidence and this story is purely fictional' shall be placed), as I think both can happen nowadays although the local setting in the second story makes it harder to happen elsewhere outside its original place.

Kah Manet

11-06-2008 19:31:42

In The Lottery, I found it the perfect ending. Usually stories like that start off happy and end happy, but the Lottery didn't, as we all know. What I thought ruined the story was the way Mrs. Hutchinson began to act as if it wasn't fair and the thing was fixed, which it probably was by Mr. Summers. The Lottery was supposed to be an honor and a time cherished tradition, as Old Man Warner had said. The funny thing is, I can see this story happening in the 90's, it can take place at any modern time or setting, reasoning being is isolation. If one group of people became isolated from everyone else, they begin to develop different views, ideals, and traditions, and eventually those traditions become warped and soon enough you have The Lottery.

The Village, the movie with Joaquin Pheonix, is a modern day The Lottery because it represents an isolated Village that, through it's own traditions, wants to remain isolated. The Lottery's village wishes to remain isolated in not giving up the Lottery when other villages begin to do so.


11-06-2008 19:54:36

I donít think the village in the lottery wishes to remain isolated as much as it wants to retain the traditions it feels make it what it is.

Also, I personally canít see it occurring too near to the present day, simply due to the fact that I imagine the ritual killing of someone with stones would be, to say the least, frowned upon, especially if it happened every year. That being said Iím sure it might be possible for a village like that to operate under the radar, but they imply that it is more widespread than one small village and I just canít seem to believe that this could happen anytime past the middle of the twentieth century. However, that is just my opinion so I wonít argue about it, as the year was probably left out to allow such debate as this to flourish, and to give the reader a different view in their mind.

Kah Manet

11-06-2008 20:22:51

Whoever said the Lottery happens in our universe? Or in our reality? It's possible for the Lottery to take place in an alternate reality where killing someone for good crops or the sake of the village is fine.

It's also possible that the Lottery doesn't take place in America, but in another third world country, since it was a small, agriculturally based town, and most towns have some sort factory or industrial side to them in America, except for the rare farm town.


11-06-2008 23:58:38

Ah, but how often do we allow ritual killing? Capital punishment is still legal in the US. And how often does mob mentality overcome common sense? I don't know if any of you remember, but after 9/11, there was a lot of violence against Arabs and those percieved to be Arabs. And during WW2 in California, until the Japanese were interred, a lot of asians had to wear "Hello, I'm Chinese/Korean/Vietnamese/etc" tags, to keep from being assaulted by their neighbors.


12-06-2008 02:39:45

Ah, but how often do we allow ritual killing? As long as every individual has faith/set of believes and some individuals join in to make a group in similar interest within this faith. Jackson's story was made as a symbolism to draw a helpless contra faith against the common one. Faith itself is not always related to religion, but in some extents faith can become religion. We could see how Jedi in Star Wars Universe became a real Jediism in some parts of this Earth. Luckily, we hadn't had any real lightsabers yet, since perhaps new-style massacre could happen in this world.

Ritual is made for the benefit of faith. Either it has long days set of ceremonial protocols, or just a simple way of action, it strengthen your faith. "The Lottery" community has a faith that a random-selected sacrifice will benefit the prosperity of the respective community. Stoning and the lottery are just the ritual and they may change depend on the faith itself. Can the capital punisment of stonning change into other form in "the lottery" in its sequelles perhaps (if these sequelles exist)? I may have a thought that stonning is not a punishment, it is a sacrifice. Sacrifice is not an ancient idea, modern society accommodate this into a different set of behavior or paradigm , therefore it will always live within every individual.

The opposite of sacrifice is punisment. Why punishment? Because a set of conduct is against the respective faith, can harm, can endanger the faith and only with punisment everything can be back on the line of faith (good crops, forgiven sins etc). Maybe some people in the village would say Tessie was deserved to be stonned as a punisment to doubt the fairness of the lottery (Tessie was still in the faith circle). Although the faith in "The Lottery" didn't have strict protocols to those who quit from the game only being labelled as 'fools' and expected to have 'trouble in that' [par 35].

So, when we quit from the ritual killing? As long as the faith/believe of killing for the benefit of others or the faith/set believes itself still resides in the human 's mind, we never quit from the ritual.


12-06-2008 16:53:57

Ah, but how often do we allow ritual killing?† Capital punishment is still legal in the US.† And how often does mob mentality overcome common sense?† I don't know if any of you remember, but after 9/11, there was a lot of violence against Arabs and those percieved to be Arabs.† And during WW2 in California, until the Japanese were interred, a lot of asians had to wear "Hello, I'm Chinese/Korean/Vietnamese/etc" tags, to keep from being assaulted by their neighbors.

Either that or rounded up and sent to prison camps. Either way, I'm not so sure about an alternate dimension. I can believe the reader can alter the time line to his/her own perspective, but not alter reality itself.


12-06-2008 22:50:36

Let's ignore "alternate dimension" hypothesis. That's a little far fetched, even for fiction. And would need mathematic backup.


13-06-2008 01:15:49

Both of the narratives center on female characters who share a unique common trait; they have met with the unfavorable outcome of their own willing participation in the events of the story; both women realize the horrifying repercussion of their carefree and thoughtless devotion to practices and environments that seemed safe and even inviting.

Now, before anyone brands me a lunatic for equating a teenage girl's ostensibly-harmless "walk on the wild side" (by crossing the highway to the burger joint where the older kids hung out) with the disturbing and abrupt turn of events that concluded "The Lottery", I feel compelled to point out that for the first half of the 20th century, lynchings were public events in the American Midwest and Deep South that drew crowds.

It was not uncommon - as late as even the 1950's - for a family to gather after church for a friendly, fun-filled brunch or afternoon picnic...with the lynching of a African-American victim for entertainment. This was considered - at the time and in the communities that participated - as quite acceptable, and indeed, good and wholesome for the entire family.


13-06-2008 01:38:15

Ooooh. Now, we're getting to something good. This is the kind of thing I want. Vorion's obviously applying it to his situation and his point of view, which is shaped by his experiences. And that's honestly the only way anyone can interpret with any sort of honesty literature. He's not taking a neutral, sterile position. Because doing that strips both the ability to analyze literature and the ability to write good literature of its greatest strength - how personal a piece can become.


16-06-2008 00:22:19

Yeah. Now granted, neither of the crimes in these stories were motivated by any racial hatred; one was driven by lust and the other by a grim and twisted sense of necessity. But the imagery sort of resonated with me.