Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson


  (Kansas) Will you please tell me the locale and the year of the custom?

  (Oregon) Where in heaven’s name does there exist such barbarity as described in the story?

  (New York) Do such tribunal rituals still exist and if so where?

  (New York) To a reader who has only a fleeting knowledge of traditional rites in various parts of the country (I presume the plot was laid in the United States) I found the cruelty of the ceremony outrageous, if not unbelievable. It may be just a custom or ritual which I am not familiar with.

  (New York) Would you please explain whether such improbable rituals occur in our Middle Western states, and what their origin and purpose are?

  (Nevada) Although we recognize the story to be fiction is it possible that it is based on fact?

  (Maryland) Please let me know if the custom of which you wrote actually exists.

  (New York) To satisfy my curiousity would you please tell me if such rites are still practiced and if so where?

  (California) If it is based on fact would you please tell me the date and place of its origin?

  (Texas) What I would like to know, if you don’t mind enlightening me, is in what part of the United States this organized, apparently legal lynching is practiced? Could it be that in New England or in equally enlightened regions, mass sadism is still part and parcel of the ordinary citizen’s life?

  (Georgia) I’m hoping you’ll find time to give me further details about the bizarre custom the story describes, where it occurs, who practices it, and why.

  (Brooklyn, N.Y.) I am interested in learning if there is any particular source or group of sources of fact or legend on which and from which the story is based? This story has caused me to be particularly disturbed by my lack of knowledge of such rites or lotteries in the United States.

  (California) If it actually occurred, it should be documented.

  (New York) We have not read about it in In Fact.

  (New York) Is it based on reality? Do these practices still continue in back-country England, the human sacrifice for the rich harvest? It’s a frightening thought.

  (Ohio) I think your story is based on fact. Am I right? As a psychiatrist I am fascinated by the psychodynamic possibilities suggested by this anachronistic ritual.

  (Mississippi) You seem to describe a custom of which I am totally ignorant.

  (California) It seems like I remember reading somewhere a long time ago that that was the custom in a certain part of France some time ago. However I have never heard of it being practiced here in the United States. However would you please inform me where you got your information and whether or not anything of this nature has been perpetrated in modern times?

  (Pennsylvania) Are you describing a current custom?

  (New York) Is there some timeless community existing in New England where human sacrifices are made for the fertility of the crops?

  (Boston) Apparently this tale involves an English custom or tradition of which we in this country know nothing.

  (Canada) Can the lottery be some barbaric event, a hangover from the Middle Ages perhaps, which is still carried on in the States? In what part of the country does it take place?

  (Los Angeles) I have read of some queer cults in my time, but this one bothers me.

  (Texas) Was this group of people perhaps a settlement descended from early English colonists? And were they continuing a Druid rite to assure good crops?

  (Quebec) Is this a custom which is carried on somewhere in America?

  (A London psychologist) I have received requests for elucidation from English friends and patients. They would like to know if the barbarity of stoning still exists in the U.S.A. and in general what the tale is all about and where does the action take place.

  (Oregon) Is there a witchcraft hangover somewhere in these United States that we Far Westerners have missed?

  (Madras, India) We have been wondering whether the story was based on fact and if so whether the custom described therein of selecting one family by lot jointly to be stoned by the remainder of the villagers still persists anywhere in the United States. The New Yorker is read here in our United States information library and while we have had no inquiries about this particular article as yet, it is possible we shall have and I would be glad to be in a position to answer them.

  (England) I am sorry that I cannot find out the state in which this piece of annual propitiatory sacrifice takes place. Now I just frankly don’t believe that even in the United States such things happen—at least not without being sponsored by Lynching Inc. or the All-American Morticians Group or some such high-powered organization. I was once offered a baby by a primitive tribe in the center of Laos (Indochina) which my interpreter (Chinese) informed me I had to kill so that my blood lust was satiated and I would leave the rest of the tribe alone. But NOT in the United States, PLEASE.

  (Connecticut) Other strange old things happen in the Appalachian mountain villages, I’m told.

  As I say, if I thought this was a valid cross section of the reading public, I would give up writing. During this time, when I was carrying home some ten or twelve letters a day, and receiving a weekly package from The New Yorker, I got one letter which troubled me a good deal. It was from California, short, pleasant, and very informal. The man who wrote it clearly expected that I would recognize his name and his reputation, which I didn’t. I puzzled over this letter for a day or two before I answered it, because of course it is always irritating to be on the edge of recognizing a name and have it escape you. I was pretty sure that it was someone who had written a book I had read or a book whose review I had read or a story in a recent magazine or possibly even—since I come originally from California—someone with whom I had gone to high school. Finally, since I had to answer the letter, I decided that something carefully complimentary and noncommittal would be best. One day, after I had mailed him my letter, some friends also from California stopped in and asked—as everyone was asking then—what new letters had come. I showed them the letter from my mysterious not-quite-remembered correspondent. Good heavens, they said, was this really a letter from him? Tell me who he is, I said desperately, just tell me who he is. Why, how could anyone forget? It had been all over the California papers for weeks, and in the New York papers, too; he had just been barely acquitted of murdering his wife with an ax. With a kind of awful realization creeping over me I went and looked up the carbon of the letter I had written him, my noncommittal letter. “Thank you very much for your kind letter about my story,” I had written. “I admire your work, too.”

  The second major theme which dominates the letters is what I call speculation. These letters were from the people who sat down and figured out a meaning for the story, or a reason for writing it, and wrote in proudly to explain, or else wrote in to explain why they could not possibly believe the story had any meaning at all.

  (New Jersey) Surely it is only a bad dream the author had?

  (New York) Was it meant to be taken seriously?

  (New York) Was the sole purpose just to give the reader a nasty impact?

  (California) The main idea which has been evolved is that the author has tried to challenge the logic of our society’s releasing its aggressions through the channel of minority prejudice by presenting an equally logical (or possibility more logical) method of selecting a scapegoat. The complete horror of the cold-blooded method of choosing a victim parallels our own culture’s devices for handling deep-seated hostilities.

  (Virginia) I would list my questions about the story but it would be like trying to talk in an unknown language so far as I am concerned. The only thing that occurs to me is that perhaps the author meant we should not be too hard on our presidential nominees.

  (Connecticut) Is The New Yorker only maintaining further its policy of intellectual leg-pulling?

  (New York) Is it a publicity
stunt?

  (New Orleans) I wish Mrs. Hutchinson had been queen for a day or something nice like that before they stoned the poor frightened creature.

  (New York) Anyone who seeks to communicate with the public should be at least lucid.

  (New Jersey) Please tell me if the feeling I have of having dreamed it once is just part of the hypnotic effect of the story.

  (Massachusetts) I earnestly grabbed my young nephew’s encyclopedia and searched under “stoning” or “punishment” for some key to the mystery; to no avail.

  (California) Is it just a story? Why was it published? Is it a parable? Have you received other letters asking for some explanation?

  (Illinois) If it is simply a fictitious example of man’s innate cruelty, it isn’t a very good one. Man, stupid and cruel as he is, has always had sense enough to imagine or invent a charge against the objects of his persecution: the Christian martyrs, the New England witches, the Jews and Negroes. But nobody had anything against Mrs. Hutchinson, and they only wanted to get through quickly so they could go home for lunch.

  (California) Is it an allegory?

  (California) Please tell us it was all in fun.

  (Los Angeles Daily News) Was Tessie a witch? No, witches weren’t selected by lottery. Anyway, these are present-day people. Is it the post-atomic age, in which there is insufficient food to sustain the population and one person is eliminated each year? Hardly. Is it just an old custom, difficult to break? Probably. But there is also the uncomfortable feeling that maybe the story wasn’t supposed to make sense. The magazines have been straining in this direction for some time and The New Yorker, which we like very much, seems to have made it.

  (Missouri) In this story you show the perversion of democracy.

  (California) It seems obscure.

  (California) I caught myself dreaming about what I would do if my wife and I were in such a predicament. I think I would back out.

  (Illinois) A symbol of how village gossip destroys a victim?

  (Puerto Rico) You people print any story you get, just throwing the last paragraph into the wastebasket before it appears in the magazine.

  (New York) Were you saying that people will accept any evil as long as it doesn’t touch them personally?

  (Massachusetts) I am approaching middle age; has senility set in at this rather early age, or is it that I am not so acute mentally as I have had reason to assume?

  (Canada) My only comment is what the hell?

  (Maine) I suppose that about once every so often a magazine may decide to print something that hasn’t any point just to get people talking.

  (California) I don’t know how there could be any confusion in anyone’s mind as to what you were saying; nothing could possibly be clearer.

  (Switzerland) What does it mean? Does it hide some subtle allegory?

  (Indiana) What happened to the paragraph that tells what the devil is going on?

  (California) I missed something here. Perhaps there was some facet of the victim’s character which made her unpopular with the other villagers. I expected the people to evince a feeling of dread and terror, or else sadistic pleasure, but perhaps they were laconic, unemotional New Englanders.

  (Ohio) A friend darkly suspects you people of having turned a bright editorial red, and that is how he construed the story. Please give me something to go on when I next try to placate my friend, who is now certain that you are tools of Stalin. If you are subversive, for goodness sake I don’t blame you for not wanting to discuss the matter and of course you have every constitutional right in back of you. But at least please explain that damned story.

  (Venezuela) I have read the story twice and from what I can gather all a man gets for his winnings are rocks in his head, which seems rather futile.

  (Virginia) The printers left out three lines of type somewhere.

  (Missouri) You printed it. Now give with the explanations.

  (New York) To several of us there seemed to be a rather sinister symbolism in the cruelty of the people.

  (Indiana) When I first read the story in my issue, I felt that there was no moral significance present, that the story was just terrifying, and that was all. However, there has to be a reason why it is so alarming to so many people. I feel that the only solution, the only reason it bothered so many people is that it shows the power of society over the individual. We saw the ease with which society can crush any single one of us. At the same time, we saw that society need have no rational reason for crushing the one, or the few, or sometimes the many.

  (Connecticut) I thought that it might have been a small-scale representation of the sort of thing involved in the lottery which started the functioning of the selective-service system at the start of the last war.

  Far and away the most emphatic letter writers were those who took this opportunity of indulging themselves in good old-fashioned name-calling. Since I am making no attempt whatsoever to interpret the motives of my correspondents, and would not if I could, I will not try now to say what I think of people who write nasty letters to other people who just write stories. I will only read some of their comments.

  (Canada) Tell Miss Jackson to stay out of Canada.

  (New York) I expect a personal apology from the author.

  (Massachusetts) I think I had better switch to the Saturday Evening Post.

  (Massachusetts) I will never buy The New Yorker again. I resent being tricked into reading perverted stories like “The Lottery.”

  (Connecticut) Who is Shirley Jackson? Cannot decide whether she is a genius or a female and more subtle version of Orson Welles.

  (New York) We are fairly well educated and sophisticated people, but we feel that we have lost all faith in the truth of literature.

  (Minnesota) Never in the world did I think I’d protest a story in The New Yorker, but really, gentlemen, “The Lottery” seems to me to be in incredibly bad taste. I read it while soaking in the tub and was tempted to put my head under water and end it all.

  (California; this from a world-famous anthropologist) If the author’s intent was to symbolize into complete mystification and at the same time be gratuitously disagreeable, she certainly succeeded.

  (Georgia) Couldn’t the story have been a trifle esoteric, even for The New Yorker circulation?

  (California) “The Lottery” interested some of us and made the rest plain mad.

  (Michigan) It certainly is modern.

  (California) I am glad that your magazine does not have the popular and foreign-language circulation of the Reader’s Digest. Such a story might make German, Russian, and Japanese realists feel lily-white in comparison with the American. The old saying about washing dirty linen in public has gone out of fashion with us. At any rate this story has reconciled me to not receiving your magazine next year.

  (Illinois) Even to be polite I can’t say that I liked “The Lottery.”

  (Missouri) When the author sent in this story, she undoubtedly included some explanation of place or some evidence that such a situation could exist. Then isn’t the reader entitled to some such evidence? Otherwise the reader has a right to indict you as editor of willfully misrepresenting the human race. Perhaps you as editor are proud of publishing a story that reached a new low in human viciousness. The burden of proof is up to you when your own preoccupation with evil leads you into such evil ways. A few more such stories and you will alienate your most devoted readers, in which class I—until now—have been included.

  (New Hampshire) It was with great disappointment that I read the story “The Lottery.” Stories such as this belong to Esquire, etc., but most assuredly not to The New Yorker.

  (Massachusetts) The ending of this story came as quite a jolt to my wife and, as a matter of fact, she was very upset by the whole thing for a day or two after.

  (New York) I read t
he story quite thoroughly and confess that I could make neither head nor tail out of it. The story was so horrible and gruesome in its effect that I could hardly see the point of your publishing it.

  Now, a complete letter, from Illinois.

  EDITOR:

  Never has it been my lot to read so cunningly vicious a story as that published in your last issue for June. I tremble to think of the fate of American letters if that piece indicated the taste of the editors of a magazine I had considered distinguished. It has made me wonder what you had in mind when accepting it for publication. Certainly not the entertainment of the reader and if not entertainment, what? The strokes of genius were of course apparent in the story mentioned, but of a perverted genius whose efforts achieved a terrible malformation. You have betrayed a trust with your readers by giving them such a bestial selection. Unaware, the reader was led into a casual tale of the village folk, becoming conscious only gradually of the rising tension, till the shock of the unwholesome conclusion, skillful though it was wrought, left him with total disgust for the story and with disillusionment in the magazine publishing it.

  I speak of my own reaction. If that is not the reaction of the majority of your readers I miss my guess. Ethics and uplift are apparently not in your repertoire, nor are they expected, but as editors it is your responsibility to have a sounder and saner criterion for stories than the one which passed on “The Lottery.”

  Heretofore mine has been almost a stockholder’s pride in The New Yorker. I shared my copy with my friends as I do the other possessions which I most enjoy. When your latest issue arrived, my new distaste kept me from removing the brown paper wrapping, and into the wastebasket it went. Since I can’t conceive that I’ll develop interest in it again, save the results of your efforts that indignity every week and cancel my subscription immediately.

 
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