‘Humming musically to himself…’ but not for long

Oh, how I wish The New Yorker had put “Paranoia” online in full. The short story is one researchers found in the papers of the late Shirley Jackson, the writer of “The Lottery.” The story, as you’d hope, is a weird and sly terror.

The first paragraph is unworried. It is the story’s last paragraph to be so.

Mr. Halloran Beresford, pleasantly tired after a good day in the office, still almost clean-shaven after eight hours, his pants still neatly pressed, pleased with himself particularly for remembering, stepped out of the candy shop with a great box under his arm and started briskly for the corner. There were twenty small-size gray suits like Mr. Beresford’s on every New York block, fifty men still clean-shaven and pressed after a day in an air-cooled office, a hundred small men, perhaps, pleased with themselves for remembering their wives’ birthdays. Mr. Beresford was going to take his wife out to dinner, he decided, going to see if he could get last-minute tickets to a show, taking his wife candy. It had been an exceptionally good day, altogether, and Mr. Beresford walked along swiftly, humming musically to himself.

You can imagine the rest. Or you can’t, really. You just have to read it.

And since the magazine hasn’t put the full story online, you can’t even do that. But you can read a good piece from Jackson’s biographer. Earlier this year, she wrote about the response to “The Lottery” in 1948. Mail about the story was “the most mail the magazine had ever received in response to a work of fiction.” Many people were horrified. Many were confused. A big thing: Until years later, the magazine never labeled fiction as fiction.

Let us pause to remember one of the best Kent Brockman lines ever…

“The whole state is suddenly in the grip of lottery fever and Springfield is no exception. In fact, every copy of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ has been checked out from the library. The book does not contain hints on winning the lottery. It is a chilling tale of conformity gone mad.”

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