“The Lottery” might be the most famous American short story. Written by Shirley Jackson and published in the New Yorker in 1948, it tells of an unnamed American town where, once a year, residents draw slips of paper from a black box, choosing one person to be murdered by the rest of the village.
Jackson, whose writing wrestles with social propriety and discomfort, hated to comment on her own work. When “The Lottery” was first published, The New Yorker was inundated with thousands of letters, many of which expressed readers’ confusion. The magazine had never received so much feedback about any short story. Jackson kept mum. Later, however, she confided to a friend that the story was an allegory for anti-Semitism and violence in the modern world. A fascinating detail, considering the year of its publication.
Jackson’s interest in anti-Semitism was personal. Her marriage to a Jewish English professor and jazz critic named Stanley Hyman was a subject of great speculation and controversy for both of their families—and, thankfully, inspired great literature.