The Lottery by Marjorie Barnard – Short Stories
“Discuss the way the discourse of the story enables the reader to understand the relative power and the roles of men and women in society.”
The Lottery by Marjorie Barnard tells the story of Ted and
Grace Bilborough set in either Australia or New Zealand in the post depression years of the 1930’s. This short story is able to compare the major differences between male and female genders and the effects of a patriarchal society on these two characters lives. By analysing this short story in the modern day we are able to realise just how marginalised, poorly treated and represented females are in the story and society and the complete power that men possessed in the 1930’s. We are able to recognise how women are silenced and how marginalised they are, even in their own marriages.
In the beginning of the text The Lottery we learn about the character Ted Bilborough who is a very dull and boring male, who lacks any emotion. He is very concerned about his social status and the way he is perceived by others particularly among his fellow men. He is seen by others as being ‘a good citizen, a good husband and a good father.’ Ted does anything to keep up his appearance of being an all round good ‘chap’; never refusing to ‘wheel the perambulator’ in fact he quite happily ‘flourished the perambulator’. Teds appearance to others and his social status are very important to him and this helps the reader to understand men of the 1930’s through the way they are represented as controlling and self obsessed. Typical of the patriarchal system of the 1930’s that is, a male dominated society.
Although perceived by others as a good husband, Ted is very far from it, showing no interest in his wife or her needs or helping her with any form of domestic duties. Ted doesn’t acknowledge anything that his wife does. ‘All she had to do was stay at home and look after the house and children. Nothing much in that. ’He sees the work that Grace does as invisible work. Her work is unimportant. The ideology of a housewife is that she is expected to do such things; it wasn’t real physical labour or important work. Females’ work doesn’t compare or come close to that of males. This is what is said to be believed and followed in the 1930’s.
When Ted realises that he doesn’t know what the other men are talking about he feels his assurance threatened. Ted believes showing any sign of weakness is unmanly and instead assumes a ‘hard boiled manner’ to seem naive and unaware of what is going on around him, so that he always maintains control. He keeps a cool manner as to act un- fazed. To show any emotion would be a form of male weakness.
Although Grace is the one who has won the money, he dismisses this idea. ‘He’d always expected in a trusting sort of way to be rewarded, but not through Grace.’ Ted straight away assumes and thinks it’s his money to spend, as does his male companions. ‘What are you going to do with it, Ted?’ All his thoughts now dwell around how Grace was able to buy the lottery ticket and win the money. It becomes an annoying trait of his character how obsessed he is by the money.
Ted throughout the text keeps dwelling on the idea of how Grace could have possibly found the ‘five and threes’ to buy a lottery ticket. All the details revolve around money and how his wife could have possibly found enough money from the limited household allowance to buy a lottery ticket ‘When you budgeted as carefully as they did there wasn’t five and three pence over.’ Ted also finds the concept of Grace having anything of her own money hard to believe. His wife shouldn’t have money to spend on herself because that money should be going towards the house. If Grace had any money left over that would mean Ted had been giving her too much for the housekeeping. It was typical of men of that generation to control the purse strings. As the bread winners they dispensed money to their wives, an allowance as it were for their domestic duties.
For the first time Ted finally was forced to acknowledge all that his wife does around the house. Fleetingly he thinks of the things that Grace does around the home. She always had ‘newly washed trousers for him laid out for tennis, the children’s neatness, the tidy house.’ But he only took interest because Grace now finally had something of her own. Ted was faced with the fact that she now had money, something of her very own that he had not provided. Ted assumes and straight away thinks that Grace had deceitfully spent his money on lottery tickets. He would never have assumed that Grace would have found the money from selling her mother’s ring. Ted does not know his wife at all, and is unaware of her feelings or what she does in a day. ‘He remembered charitably that she had always been a good wife to him.’ He completely doesn’t understand her life; Ted is portrayed as a hegemonic. As long as Grace did what Ted expected of her, to take care of all the domestic duties then Ted was not concerned.
The way in which the story is told in the third person helps us to fully understand and get to know Ted Bilborough. We believe that Ted is the central character as there is only slight reference to his wife Grace. The reader feels as though he is the most significant figure, because he possesses social and economic power. Having the financial independence allows him to be in total control. The authors more focused and fuller portrayal of Teds character at the expense of the lesser and marginalised character of Grace is a successful and deliberate technique the author uses to parallel the male and female gender roles of the wider society of that time. These stereotypical characters portray the beliefs of the society in the 1930’s.The power source and bread winner Ted, manages the money, he goes to work, he has companions and socialises, plays leisurely sports and he dictates how the money is spent, giving his wife a household allowance. We learn about the leisurely activities and the worldly life that Ted lives. He gets to enjoy a social game of tennis, goes to work and socialises with companions other than children. These are things which his wife Grace misses out on, she isn’t given any opportunities to do so because she is the domestic housewife who doesn’t venture past the house and lives a static life.
Because Grace is not in paid employment she has nothing of her own, this therefore reinforces the idea that she and her opinions do not matter. Women of that era were seen as appendages of their husbands. What the reader comes to understand about Grace is only from what we hear about her from Ted, She is ‘Mrs Bilborough’. Ted being the dominant character was not ready for the idea that his wife might actually take the money for herself. That Grace might actually take control and take some form of power over her husband. She now has money which is a symbol of male control; she is no longer dependant on her husband because she has gained financial independence.
The patriarchal ideology of the 1930’s, the males being the dominant power figures is evident in the story from the way that females characters live a very controlled and closed life. In the 1930’s Grace would have been seen as a particularly horrible wife and mother, abandoning her husband and children for a selfish life. But by reading the story in the modern day we have a different approach to Graces character and the reasons why she called her ticket ‘The Last Hope’. We see the life that Grace was living was unbearable and dull. She didn’t feel equal in her marriage and felt stifled. Her marriage was a paternalistic relationship where by Ted treated her like a child, more like his daughter rather than his wife. This ‘Last Hope’ is her last chance, because Grace feels unfulfilled in her current life. This was her last chance for freedom and independence her last chance for a better life. For the 1930’s Grace would have been seen as a very shocking woman. Not only because she was planning to take off ,but in view of the fact that this was just after the Depression, her lack of putting the money away for her children’s future or some other conservative way of spending the money would have been seen as particularly selfish and foolhardy. But ‘Grace had character, trust her to handle a couple of cub reporters’ and this is her way of discovering herself again.
The relationship between Ted and Grace and the general discourse of the story clearly identifies the different roles of men and women and the way they behaved in the patriarchal society of the 1930’s.It was considered that the mans role was to be the provider and the women’s role to be the housekeeper. Men are seen as the logical, rational, stoic, authority figures that have complete control not only of their children but equally their wives. This typical scenario would have gone on indefinitely if it had not been for Graces lottery win which changed the dynamics of the relationship. This change in dynamics also changed and diminished the binary opposition to a point where Grace almost became equal and was able to exercise some dominance in the relationship.