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A Feministic View On Jackson’S Short Stories �The Lottery’ And �The Tooth’

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Shirley Jackson is most famous for her short story �The Lottery’ and her novel �The Haunted House’. She has been applauded for her fresh approach towards American Gothic writing. There are many works dedicated to the gothic elements her stories contain. However, most critics overlooked the feminist elements that most of her stories have. The two short stories discussed in this essay both have female characters who are outsiders in their society. Careful examination of the protagonists’ course of action, setting, and symbolic references Shirley Jackson put in both of the stories shows that the female protagonist in both �The Lottery’ and �The Tooth should be considered as a woman with a feminist attitude towards a male-dominated society. The first short story which will be discussed is �The Lottery’. The second story to be discussed is �The Tooth’. In order to get a clear view on why these two short stories can in fact be considered stories with a feminist message, this essay will first of all explain what feminist theory consists of and how this theory applies to short stories.

Feminist theory examines and critiques the relations of power that are defined in and through the sex/gender system that “unnaturally” differentiates women from men. The feminist view on this problematic system of power, which privileges men while denying women legal and political equality and sexual freedom, has shifted over time. Different theorists of feminism reflect the changing times, histories, and varied conceptions of women's power and oppression (Eisenstein Z, 2001).

Feminist theory did not only change people’s view on social aspects of our society, but it also changed the way people looked at literature. This form of criticism is called feminist criticism. Feminist criticism is a critical approach that started in the 1960s and 1970s. Feminist criticism stated that literary study had been so dominated by men that it contained many “male-produced” assumptions. Feminist criticism addresses this imbalance in two ways: first in insisting that sexless interpretation is impossible and second by articulating responses to literary texts that are male or female (Kennedy X.J, Dana G, 2005). Feminism in a short story cannot be defined simply as a text which contains a female character who overcomes certain obstacles. There are no clear guidelines in defining what a feminist story is, but there are some directions to which a short story can be held in order to see if it can be considered feminist. First of all, the story has a female protagonist or an important female character. To be more precise; in order for a short story to be defined as feminist, it has to contain a female character or protagonist who contributes to the feminist meaning of such a text. A text only gets this вЂ?feminist meaning’ if the female protagonist acts against what society restricts her to. Second, this female protagonist or character is kept back by male dominance or social conventions in her society. Finally, there can also be some symbolic references to female power in a male dominated society.

In order to establish whether these two stories, вЂ?The Lottery’ and вЂ?The Tooth’, can be considered feminist, the reader first of all has to examine if these stories contain a female protagonist or important female characters and if they go through a development throughout the story. Both short stories discussed in this essay contain a female protagonist. In вЂ?The Lottery’ this is Tessie Hutchinson and in вЂ?The Tooth’ it is Clara. The protagonist of вЂ?The Lottery’ undergoes a significant change in her attitude towards the towns’ tradition of holding a lottery. The first impression of Tessie is that she is a happy, good-natured woman who finds the lottery one great joke (Yarmaya, Jay,A, 1994). Tessie’s late arrival at the lottery illustrates this, as does the following conversation with Mrs. Delacroix: 'Clean forgot what day it was' she said to Mrs. Delacroix ... and they both laughed softly....'I remembered it was the twenty-seventh and came a-running'" (294). Tessie actually desires to come down to this event, contrary to the rest of the townspeople who are subdued and even seem nervous, "jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed" (292). However, towards the end of the story Tessie transforms into a different woman once her family is chosen. The next passage indicates Tessie’s transformation when all of the sudden, Tessie Hutchinson shouts to Mr. Summers, “You didn't give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn't fair!”(298). Her husband did not receive an honest treatment according to Tessie, which will eventually lead to her downfall. Now that she is the victim, there is a significant change in attitude towards the town and its tradition. She is no longer a good-natured woman who finds the lottery on great joke, instead, she stands up to this old tradition and is more nervous and aggressive than ever before in the story. This is the complete opposite of what we first saw of Tessie, a simple woman concerned more with her dishes than the lottery. The character of Tessie, in the end of the story, is fully aware of the consequences of this same lottery and she protests against the tradition which is so deeply rooted in her society. Because of the first impression of Tessie the reader would have expected her to just shrug her shoulders, instead Tessie does completely the opposite and stands up for her own rights.

In вЂ?The Tooth’ Clara leaves her secure domestic environment to travel to a large city. Clara is very insecure and clings on to her husband as she departs for New York City to have a tooth extracted. In the story Clara undergoes a change in personality, which is more drastic in comparison to Tessie’s, for she completely sheds her old identity and takes on a new one. Clara Spencer is a married, middle-class housewife. The relationship between herself and her husband is not passionate or even emotional. Their parting conversation at the bus stop discloses how cold their relationship is: ““Listen,” Clara said suddenly, “are you sure you’ll be all right? Mrs. Lang will be over in the morning in time to make breakfast and Jonny doesn’t need to go to school if things are too mixed up””(267). The last conversation they have for a long time is all about plans and duties and without any sign of affection.

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