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Writing and Rhetoric


Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” has been notorious since its first publication in 1948, but rarely, if ever, has it been read in light of its immediate historical context. This essay draws on literature, philosophy, and anthropology from the period to argue that Jackson’s story, which scholars have traditionally read through the lens of gender studies, invokes the themes of Holocaust literature. To support this argument, the essay explores imaginative Holocaust literature from the period by David Rousset, whose Holocaust memoir The Other Kingdom appeared in English translation in 1946, anthropological discourse from the period on scapegoating and European anti-Semitism, and critical discourse on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism from the period by Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno. The analysis finds that, in representing the phenomena of scapegoating and death selection in a small town in the US, Jackson’s story belongs to an abstract discourse on Holocaust-related themes and topics that was actively produced at midcentury, as evidenced partly by Rousset’s influential memoir. A master of the horror genre, Jackson could have drawn on her own experience of anti-Semitism, along with her known interest in the study of folklore, to contribute this chilling representation of the personal experience of death selection to a discourse on Holocaust-related themes. As this article shows, the abstract discourse Jackson’s story joined is marked by skepticism about or disinterest in ethnic difference and anthropological concepts. Due to the fact that this article features comparative analysis of Holocaust literature, a sub-topic is the debate among scholars concerning the ethics of literary representation of the Shoah and of analysis of Holocaust memoir. Jackson’s story and its context invoke perennially important questions about identity and representation in discourse about the Shoah and anti-Semitism.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.