• Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

The Dark Politics Behind Small-Town Charm

ByMaria Farsoon

Mar 31, 2023

Small-town settings are often glorified across literature and onscreen. They entice audiences with their array of appealing elements, including the signature small-town closely-knit community. As a teen, I found myself wanting to participate in the eccentrically amusing town events of Gilmore Girls’ ‘Stars Hollow’, like the twenty-four-hour Dance Marathon. Underneath this attractive image, however, sometimes lies a more sinister atmosphere, as exemplified by Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, a short story whose dark ending shocked and enraged its readers. When I first read this piece, not only was I engrossed in Jackson’s descriptive mastery and horrified by the twist, I could not help but see Amy Sherman-Palladino’s hit 2000s TV show Gilmore Girls as a parallel to Jackson’s piece. Little did I know that my reading of The Lottery would change how I viewed my favourite teen show for periods of rewatching to come. 

Both narratives are set in a town square where all community action is concentrated. Both settings represent the stereotypically small yet charming American towns that outsiders glorify. Jackson opens with the summery “fresh warmth” of the day that automatically – and manipulatively – comforts readers, much like the idyllic and picturesque establishing shots of ‘Stars Hollow’ pull viewers in, embracing us with the light-hearted nostalgia that the show is iconic for evoking. 

We realise that the role of each member of the town embodies a social function necessary to sustain the operation of their leading political ideology. In the same way, Sherman-Palladino’s utopian counterpart consists of different townies, each with a role or speciality that helps things operate smoothly. The most fitting example that ties both narratives together is embodied by the characters upon which all ideological values rest: the town’s political figureheads, Jackson’s Mr Summers and Sherman-Palladino’s Taylor Doose. Both are similar in physicality and tend to mimic one another in personality. Jackson describes Mr Summers, the operator of town events, as “a round-faced and jovial man who people were sorry for because he had no children”, much like Taylor, who is pitied by town members and disliked for his dictatorial behaviour. Both characters’ childlessness creates a void filled by excessive care for socialising and organising their towns as though their members are their children, their social projects. Taylor’s desire for socio-political power is a prominent trait throughout the series, likely stemming from his inability to connect with others during his youth, an issue into which we gain insight when his brother visits once and Taylor’s fears of being bullied rush back. Therefore, when characters such as teen rebel Jess Mariano arrive in town, Taylor is reminded of this threat to conventional social order and reacts with disdain.

Jackson’s Mrs Hutchinson is an allegory to liberal Anne Hutchinson, a preacher of dissent who motivated the Antinomian Controversy. The town’s ultimate mob mentality against Mrs Hutchinson disturbingly hints at the patriarchal dynamics that infiltrate patriotic American towns and annihilate unorthodox women. 

Both town leaders gain mass attention and control their town members through events such as the lottery and Taylor’s weekly town meetings. These leaders closely befriend those who agree with them and alienate those that threaten their ideas. In the case of the Lottery, they push them to the brink of death.

Image “Gilmore Girls Set 2” by Noelle And Mike is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.