The topic of this thesis is the only collection of short stories the American writer Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) published in her lifetime; The Lottery, or the Adventures of James Harris (1949). Drawing on recent short story theory, especially aspects dealing with the dynamics of the short story “composite” or “cycle,” and Gérard Genette’s idea of the paratext, the thesis attempts to show that the references to Joseph Glanvill’s Saducismus triumphatus (1681) and the “James Harris” ballad found in Child’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898), are important to our reading of the collection as a whole. These paratexts, used as epigraphs and an epilogue respectively, not only allude to the central idea of the demon lover in various historical and religious contexts, thus emphasizing the importance of history, they also help underline and, to a certain extent, explain the mysterious presence of James Harris, a recurring character identified as a demon lover. These “marginal” texts also shed light on some of the book’s thematic developments. In addition to these unifying devices, disruptive strategies are also discussed; the use of uncanny and fantastic elements serves to underline the fragmentary and distorted sense of reality in this complex composite.
The thesis makes use of Gothic theories and criticism, and a fundamentally historicist-hermeneutic approach to The Lottery: literary allusions and other “re-enactments of the past” are seen as subversive ways of questioning the reality of the book’s present, a reality Jackson seems to have a fairly misanthropic view of. The references to witchcraft and folklore, it is argued, are not meant to simply mystify, as some critics have claimed, they are attempts to provide some historical understanding to the problem of the possibility of evil in Jackson’s post-war America, thus representing a disturbing distortion of reality, as opposed to an escape from it.