Symbolism in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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Symbolism in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

This essay will explore the use of symbolism in Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” It will analyze how the story uses symbols to critique blind adherence to tradition, social conformity, and the darker aspects of human nature. Moreover, at PapersOwl, there are additional free essay samples connected to Human Nature.

Category:Human Nature
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Short stories vary in lengths and genres. Short stories stimulate deep emotion within the writer and reader but most importantly it grabs the reader’s attention and tells enough information to capture the main character’s backstory. In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” individuals do not win money, but it is rather considered as a tradition to the village. The theme of “The Lottery” propounds expecting the unexpecting which is revealed at the end which supports the cruel tradition that is kept in place no matter how harmful or violent it is, and the villagers are unaware of this problem.

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The lottery has become a vague tradition in the village. Symbolism in the story supports the theme and background of The Lottery. Also, literary elements affect the development of the story, revealing the theme to the audience which allows the reader to ask questions about the story, characterization, mood, tone, and the action which allows the audience to think critically and analyze the story to have a better understanding and perspective. Mr. Graves, the postmaster of the community is the business of death and holds power over the villagers. After determining the winner of the lottery Old man Warner states, used to be a saying about Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon. The first thing you know, we`d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns (“The Lottery”).

Old man Warner indicates that the lottery is a ritual human sacrifice to ensure that their crops grow. According to The Lottery, the morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely, and the grass was richly green (“The Lottery”). The setting is cheerful and sparkling creating a positive atmosphere but in reality, the audience is not expecting a violent and tragic outcome. Also, Jackson mentions that the children are out of school for summer vacation. The lottery affects people, their attitudes,and relationships with others. Most people are insensitive about previous and current deaths and every man is for themselves when participating in the lottery. Also, many young children are taught to kill others at a young age because observe and analyze what is going on as a norm. For example, Little Davy is given stones to throw at Tessie. Once the lottery is over everyone returns to their daily routines either heading home for lunch or back to work to continue their day.

The black box symbolizes a coffin for the dead and represents the 77th year tradition amongst the villagers which includes slips of papers with a black dot that which indicated the power between life and death. Each head of household draws from the box. Villagers being stoned until they are dead won’t stop until the tradition is abolished. The color of the box “black” represents death and evil. Also, the introduction of the box is a major turning point “most villagers kept their distance” which creates suspense and questions the symbolism of the box which changes the mood of the story. Each year members of the village complained saying the following: “The black box grew shabbier each year (“The Lottery”). The box is old and falling apart but no one wants to “upset tradition” by creating a new box. This quote shows how outdated the tradition is, and the villagers fear of change and breaking tradition. When someone picks the slip of paper that has the black dot from the black box, that person will be stoned to death by other villagers including their close friends and families.

The stones symbolize violence and weapons. During the prehistoric times, stones were the first tools created and used as weapons. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed selecting the smoothest and roundest stones (“The Lottery”). This quote symbolizes how traditions being passed down from generation to generation have brainwashed young children. Parents allow their children to participate in this act despite their age. For example, Bobby Martin ducked under his mother’s grasping hand and ran” but then he starts laughing back to the pile of stones (“The Lottery”). Hutchinson stated that the lottery was unfair, but the villagers had zero mercy towards her and stoned her to death. In the lottery, violence, and death seem like a norm to the villagers. life that the community is immune to they are prepared to expect the unexpected at any time. The theme throughout “The Lottery” is a tradition.

The story ends with violence yet there was no resolution to ending the lottery. This tradition surfaces villagers as their everyday lives and is unaware of the violent acts that occur. Every year the lottery takes place it is the same box, the same practice of death and no improvement or changed are made each year. ‘Because of our routines, we tend to forget that life is an outgoing adventure. Life is a pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art: to bring all our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen. We need to remember that we are created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed.'(Angelou, Maya). 

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Symbolism in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. (2021, Mar 26). Retrieved from