75 years ago today The New Yorker published Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” a short story that continues to resonate and disturb today.
I didn’t discover it until a few years ago, and honestly haven’t read anything quite like it before or since. To say it was profoundly disturbing would be an understatement. As a writer whose natural inclination seems to be exploring the darker side of human nature, I have to tip my hat to what is possibly the most upsetting piece of short fiction I’ve ever read.
There are so many layers to peel back and explore, not the least of which is that it would be very, very difficult (if not impossible) to get this published today. That The New Yorker chose to do so in 1948 is a testament to to an editor not afraid to upset their readership. Which, of course, it did.
For the most part, magazines no longer publish short stories, because, well, print magazines no longer really exist. If you happen to write short stories, that leaves you with online literary journals, many of which publish exciting new fiction. Caveat: as long as it doesn’t upset the readership. Say what?
I guess modern readers don’t like to be upset. The thing is, provocative art that pushes buttons means it’s touching some festering nerve that doesn’t want to be touched. You know – that uncomfortable part of ourselves that needs to be explored in order for us to grow. Sometimes discomfort is the point. And yet, guidelines for submissions to many journals still ask for trigger warnings to protect their adult readers.
Ruth Franklin, in her New York Times essay, “75 Years Ago, ‘The Lottery’ Went Viral. There’s a Reason We’re Still Talking About It,” points out the danger in this kind of thinking.
“The idea that authors should work to avoid offending anyone is a recipe for bad writing.”