I remembered reading "The Lottery" in school but didn't remember anything more than that. I didn't remember a reference to it in Gilmore Girls either, so I went into reading this story with no preconceived notions.
"The Lottery" takes place in an unnamed small town. All the residents gather together for a ritual town lottery. While the day starts like any town event, with villagers chatting and children playing together, the mood quickly becomes more and more serious. Families gather together and wait quietly for the lottery to begin. While reading, the reader is unaware of what will happen when a "winner" is chosen, but Jackson gives hints that make the reader suspicious.
Despite the short length of the story, Jackson is able to draw out the suspense. She spends time describing the battered box that is used to select the lottery "winner." She opens the story with a group of young boys gathering a pile of rocks. While the reader may initially believe this is just children playing while waiting, we realize later that Jackson is showing that the lottery extends far beyond just the adults of the town. The lottery extends to the youngest members, and they have a role...collecting the rocks....and there's a chance they could be selected as the "winner."
Even with the "hints" Jackson gives regarding the outcome of the lottery, I was still shocked when I read it. I immediately looked up the Gilmore Girls reference and found this quote:
"Oh yeah, right after they stoned the woman who won the lottery." - Rory Gilmore, Season 2, Episode 21
Yes, the "winner" of the lottery is stoned by his or her fellow townspeople. The winner could be any one of the town's residents, from youngest to oldest. The lottery doesn't discriminate based on age or sex. Family members, friends, and neighbors who were standing together talking moments earlier now turn on one of their own. Friendship is forgotten. Loyalty is forgotten. In an instant, everyone bands together against one, simply because that person pulled the "marked paper" out of a battered old box.
This story originally appeared in The New Yorker in 1948 and sparked outrage. The New Yorker received more mail about this story than any other work of fiction. While the story is horrifying, Jackson writes in a way that leaves the reader pondering how this could happen. The lottery is barbaric, but in reading it, I am reminded how people become jaded and accept horrible things in the world as part of life. Sometimes the reminder to stand back, look from outside eyes, and realize, this isn't ok is needed.