“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
In “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson uses symbolism to make us aware of the
pointless nature of humanity regarding tradition and violence. The story starts off
on a beautiful summer day in a small town. The author describes the day as very
euphoric but strikes a contrast between the atmosphere of the town and the
atmosphere of the people gathered in the square. The atmosphere is subdued,
where the children are “gathered around quietly.”
The black box is the central theme or idea in the story. It symbolizes at
first some type of mystery, but as we read the ending we realize that it is
synonymous with doom. Someone’s fate lies in an inanimate object, the black
box. We do not always enjoy change, even if it might prove beneficial to us.
The box is symbolic of our loathing of change; it is old and splintered showing
that we cling to what is familiar rather than change and it also symbolizes the
traditions of the community. No one in the little town questions the origin of
the black box, but accept it as an intrical part of their lives. There is always
discussion of people getting a new box, but no one ever really goes
through with it. “Everuy year, after the lottery, Mr.Summers began talking
again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade
off without anything’s being done”.
The lottery itself is symbolic of the paradox of the human psyche between
compassion on one hand and the thirst for violence and cruelty on the other.
An example of this is when the children are enjoying a break from school,
playing and being children, and suddenly they are being joined by “rational”
adults in stoning a mother to death. It appears that tradition has blinded these
people in an irrational way, making them unable to think of a reason why this
possibly should not be happening.
When forced with the possibility of death, human nature in all its
complexity, comes down to one instinctive urge, that of survival. When Tessie
was in no danger she was gossiping with the other ladies and even encouraged
her husband to go and pick a piece of paper. When Tessie wins the lottery; she
pleads for another chance and screams for mercy. She demands that her
daughters take their chances as well, which is indicative of regression
toward our basic instinct of survival.
The pieces of paper that are lifted away by the breeze is not only symbolic
of the ease with which life can be taken but is also symbolic of vast civilizations
that were doomed to eventual failure for believing in and acting on tradition
and not living according to the word of God. We see that even as Tessie is
being stoned to death does she not question the reasoning behind the lottery,
but why it should be her that has to die.
The story also has some symbolic relevance to when it was written in 1948.
This was a time where a lot of countries were rebuilding there nations due to the
destruction they undertook in World War II. These nations were restructuring
how they handled world problems, and how they ran there own countries.
There was a lot of change after the war; people were not the same because
so many had been affected by it. I think that this story tries to capture some of
that. One example in the book was, “There had been , also, a ritual salute,
which the official of the lottery had had to use in addressing each person
who came up to draw from the box, but this also had changed with time, until
now it was felt necessary only for the official to speak to each person
approaching.” I feel that this shows that she interpreted the story to what
was going on in the world around her, and how the world was changing so much.
Traditions that people used to feel very strong about were starting to be broken
down by the change in time, and world around them.
As much as The Lottery symbolizes tradition the driving force through
out the story is sacrifice. The author of the, The Lottery used foreshadowing
and an astounding plot to present a tale about a melancholy sacrifice.
Sacrifice plays a large role in the acute community. It instills a form of
obedience and loyalty towards the morbid tradition. Although tradition changes
over time ; the villagers over all concept of sacrifice is never lost.
Jackson the author of The Lottery uses sacrifice to build an extremely
original plot. Jackson wrote the story as if it were a favorable lottery to through
off the readers consistency and twist the plot. Through out the story the author
leaves helpful hints to make the theme apparent. For example when Jackson
wrote ” Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of rock and the other
boys started to follow his example”, and “eventually made a great pile of stones
in the corner of the square.” This sign of foreshadowing show’s what method
of sacrifice is to be used within the short story.
The town had no other choice than to mastermind the lottery.
In The Lottery Old Man Warner said” Listen to those young folk, nothing’s good
enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in
caves, nobody work any more, live like that for a while.” This quotes intent was
to show how much harder it was for the community to strive while living in caves.
Also while living in caves the public civilization at the time was in ruin. They had
come up with the idea to use a theory brought upon by other communities
around them. Their approach to the theory was to eliminate one individual
annually ;so that their crops would come in. They chose this method of
sacrifice in order to yield themselves from the responsibility and burden
Even though the towns lottery has lost all traditional value the sacrificing
has held steadfast. As it says in The Lottery ” although the villagers had
forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remember to use
the rocks.” This quote means that even though their tradition has gone off
course they will always hold to their beliefs about sacrifice. To summarize they
held true to their beliefs because of apprehension. So tradition has
subconsciously made the community unaware of their horrible actions.
The citizens of the village are not afraid of change. They are afraid of
what change will bring. The present community has never known a year
without the lottery or depleted crops. They fear if they if they disband from the
traditional sacrifice their crops will fail. Also their warm safe homes will fade
away and the dampened caves that have become so fictional to them will
appear to be realistic problems.