“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson opens on a warm June day in a town of about 300 people and describes an annual event in the town, a tradition that is apparently widespread among surrounding villages as well. Children arrive in the town square first and engage in “boisterous play.” Some of the boys create a “great pile of stones in one corner of the square.”
When the men of the village arrive they stand away from the stones, joke quietly, and smile instead of laugh. The women arrive next. As they join their husbands, they call to their children. One mother’s voice carries no weight, and it is her husband that commands Bobby Martin’s attention.
The event for which they gather is a lottery conducted by Mr. Summers, a neatly dressed, jovial business man with a wife but no children. Although many traditional customs associated with the lottery seemed to have been lost over time, Mr. Summers still has “a . . . Read More
Ralph Ellison struggled through much of his career with his role as a black American writer. Alternately patronized and exalted in his early career, by the 1960s the militant tone of the black intellectual world deemed him irrelevant. Activists of the civil-rights movement preferred the militancy and anger of works like Black Boy, (written by Richard Wright, one of Ellison’s mentors) over Ellison’s moderate stance. Ellison never felt comfortable with what he saw as the limitations of the genre of “Negro literature.” “I am a human being, and not just the black successor to Richard Wright,” he wrote, “and there are ways of celebrating my experience more complex than terms like ‘protest’ can suggest.”
Ellison was educated in the two most important “schools” for black intellectuals and artists of the time. He attended Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, the college founded by Booker T. Washington; and . . . Read More
Race in the South
Ralph Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, and during his childhood he encountered opposition from the city’s white establishment. His mother was persecuted for her political activities on behalf of the Socialist Party. Oklahoma’s governor during Ellison’s early years was the white supremacist “Alfalfa Bill” Murray. Murray established a very unfriendly atmosphere for blacks in Oklahoma, and the state saw at least one serious race riot during that period. Although Oklahoma is not a part of the South proper and was still Indian territory during the Civil War, the state has absorbed a Southern cultural heritage from its neighbors Texas and Arkansas. Part of this heritage included Jim Crow laws, the system of de jure and de facto (meaning unwritten but enforced) racial segregation laws that persisted until the 1960s.
Ellison believed an effort was made by the state to ensure that black . . . Read More
Narration and Point of View
“King of the Bingo Game” utilizes a third-person narrator who is inside the consciousness of the Bingo King. The narrator relates the Bingo King’s thoughts and his memories. At first, the narration is relentlessly realistic, and almost naturalistic in its depiction of the mind of a poor, downtrodden, yet still-hopeful man. The introduction of his sick wife into the narrative gives the story a melodramatic tone.
However, as the story continues, the realism lessens and the narration approximates the consciousness of the Bingo King, becoming a mouthpiece for him as he is taken over by the power of the bingo wheel. “This is God! This is the really truly God!” the narrator tells us. “He was reborn. For as long as he pressed the button he was The-man-who-pressed-the-button-who-held-the-prize-who-was-the-King-of-Bingo.” But as the story ends, the narrative voice recedes, . . . Read More
Fate and Determinism
In “King of the Bingo Game,” Ralph Ellison explores the relationship between man and fate. The bingo wheel represents the ‘ ‘Wheel of Fortune,” an ancient image used to depict man’s position among the fates. The concept of the wheel attempts to explain how a person can be fortunate and prosperous one day and destitute the next by positing that people are on a wheel, moving up and down unpredictably. This concept holds that any person who is experiencing difficulties should persevere because eventually that position will reverse. For the Bingo King, though, the Wheel is a joke that does not fulfill its assigned role. The Bingo King has been perpetually on the bottom. When the story opens, he is almost penniless, he is new to an unfamiliar and unfriendly city, and his wife is dying. He attempts to stack the odds in his favor by buying five bingo cards, but when that plan succeeds he is . . . Read More
The Bingo Caller
The bingo caller is the man who calls out the bingo numbers and who acts as the master of ceremonies. When the Bingo King wins the chance to spin the wheel, the caller introduces him and makes fun of his rural upbringing. At first the caller is amused by the King’s refusal to relinquish the button, but then he gets angry at the King’s demand to remain in control. The caller represents the low-level forces of authority: he does not make the rules, but he must enforce them.
The Bingo King
The Bingo King, the protagonist of the story, remains unnamed throughout. As the story opens, he is watching a movie for the fourth time, enjoying a scene in which a woman is tied down to a bed. However, his mind is also troubled by thoughts of his sick wife. The Bingo King is originally from the South, and as he sits in the movie theater he thinks about the difference between his . . . Read More
“King of the Bingo Game” opens with a man sitting in a movie theater watching a movie he has already seen. He is hungry, and he can smell the peanuts that the woman in front of him is eating. Readers are able to access his thoughts as he envisions being in the South where he could ask the woman for a peanut and she would give him one. He also thinks the same thing about a pair of men who are on his right, drinking wine. He is broke and his wife, Laura, is sick and dying. Watching the movie, he thinks about how the characters in the movie are able to escape their predicaments, but he is not. He also thinks of what would happen if the woman in the movie were to take off her clothes.
He falls asleep and dreams that he is back in the South, where he lived when he was a boy. He dreams that a train is bearing down on him. Although he jumps off the tracks, the train follows him onto the highway and down the street. He wakes up screaming, and an old man next to him . . . Read More
In her essay “The Eye of the Story,” fellow southern writer and critic Eudora Welty observes that “most good stories are about the interior of our lives, but Katherine Anne Porter’s stories take place there; they surface only at her choosing.” “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is certainly one of these interior stories, as Porter uses Ellen Weatherall’ s fragile state of mind as a narrative device to connect past and present and the living and the dead.
While “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is told by a third person narrator, readers are drawn into the mind of Ellen Weatherall and come to see the events of the story from her perspective. Readers laugh along with her, for example, when she teases the doctor about his youth. Gradually, however, Ellen’s grasp of reality slips off its moorings and she begins to journey back into her past. Readers are able to travel along with Ellen Weatherall as her . . . Read More
Porter once wrote that her stories grew primarily out of her passion for the feelings and motivations of individual people, claiming “I have never known an uninteresting human being, and I have never known two alike.” For her, however, fascination with the individual did not preclude an interest in broader social and historical issues. Unique individuals were, in her view, the very building blocks of history—”these beings without which, one by one, all the ‘broad movements of history’ could never take place.” The central character in “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” is someone who seems curiously removed from the time and place in which she lives—unable herself even to distinguish past from present. Yet, for Porter, individuals like Granny Weatherall provide the vehicle for an exploration of the broader social and historical forces of her time.
Progress and Social Fragmentation
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Early in her career, Porter came to be admired as an innovative and masterful stylist. In “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” she uses experimental, modernist narrative techniques in creating a moving and believable portrait of an eighty-year-old woman on her deathbed.
Narration One of the most striking stylistic aspects of “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is its unusual narrative perspective. Though the story is written in the third person, its narrative point of view is extremely close to that of the central character, Granny Weatherall. The story is told through stream-of-consciousness. Granny’s thoughts are presented in a spontaneous fashion, as if readers had access to her thoughts at the moment each one occurs to her. Porter conveys what it is like to be an eighty-year-old woman whose mind tends to wander by enabling readers to experience some of the same confusion Granny . . . Read More