The Lottery Imagery: Symbolism and Imagery Revealing the Power of Tradition

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The Lottery Imagery: Symbolism and Imagery Revealing the Power of Tradition

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is renowned for its use of symbolism and imagery to critique the power of tradition. This essay will analyze the various symbols and imagery used in the story, such as the black box and the lottery itself, to unravel the underlying themes of conformity, violence, and the human capacity for evil hidden beneath the veneer of societal norms. The essay will discuss how Jackson’s use of vivid imagery and symbolic elements serves to build tension and shock the reader, ultimately delivering a powerful commentary on the dangers of unexamined traditions. The overview aims to provide a deeper understanding of Jackson’s narrative craft and the timeless message of “The Lottery.” PapersOwl showcases more free essays that are examples of The Lottery.

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The Underlying Message of “The Lottery”

For most people, when they think of the lottery, they think of money – lots of it. The lottery is known to be a joyous and festive time. However, what would happen if the meaning of the lottery suggested something different? What if instead of the “winner” winning millions of dollars, the “winner” would have to sacrifice their lives because of tradition? Seems extreme? Well, that was Shirley Jackson, the author of “The Lottery”, intentions. At face value, The Lottery paints a festive event in a small town of villagers.

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However, Jackson uses symbolism, imagery, and many other literary techniques to shift the plot and the minds of the readers. Instead of the “winner” receiving money, the “winner” gets stoned for tradition. Jackson makes her readers dive deeper into the notions of what society deems as tradition.

The Lottery Imagery: Daily Life and Deception

In ‘The Lottery,’ Jackson uses symbolism and imagery through objects to show the persuasive power tradition holds and how society blindly follows tradition without question. Jackson uses subtle imagery throughout the story to paint a picture of normalcy and the everyday life manner of the simple townspeople that, in turn, covers the haunting ingrained tradition of the lottery. Using something as common as the village square, Jackson persuades readers to believe that the lottery is something positive. The author describes the village square as “between the post office and the bank,” where civic activities take place. Just like “the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween,” the lottery is just another typical day in the small town. In addition to the village square, the subtle narration of Mrs. Hutchinson’s – the protagonist of the story – apron is another example of the nonchalant attitude for the day. The apron represents the everyday life that Mrs. Hutchinson – a housewife – and the villagers were living. Like many of the housewives, Mrs. Hutchinson had her apron on because she was in the middle of doing chores. When she is found saying in paragraph 10: “Wouldn’t have me leave dishes in the sink, now, would you. Joe? (Jackson 2)’, the readers see why she has forgotten what day it is, resulting in her rushing to the village square. The village and Mrs. Hutchinson’s apron are just two of the many ways Jackson makes the reader believe that the lottery is an ordinary occurrence.

The Black Box: Symbol of Tradition and Blind Acceptance

In doing that, she shows that despite the chilling outcome of the tradition of the lottery, it is still blindly followed and accepted without question. The black wooden box is represented through symbolism in two significant ways: First, the villagers’ connection to the tradition of the lottery, and second, the villagers’ blind loyalty and acceptance of the tradition. The author uses imagery to depict how worn the black box is. Showing the passage of time and the physical deterioration of the ritual. Jackson uses imagery when she describes the black box as “[growing] shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.” Even though the box “had been put into use” and is decaying, the villagers do not replace it as they did not want to: “upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box.” The symbolism of this shows that even when the negative effects of tradition are apparent, it is still held tightly solely on the fact and the mentality of ‘that’s how it’s always been.’ The symbolism of the black box does not stop there.

The black box symbolizes the idea of blind loyalty and acceptance. The box is wooden and black, meaning no one can see inside it. Instead of questioning the validity of the box – or the tradition of the lottery – the villagers blindly draw a slip of paper accepting whatever is in the box because it is the tradition. Jackson’s depiction of the box being “made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it” is telling. This small point in the story shows that because of the supposed history of the box, the villagers’ belief that they shouldn’t question it or that those who do question or change it are “[a] pack of crazy fools,” as a character in the story, Old Man Warner said. The thought of someone – particularly a new generation – deviating from tradition is shown as crazy or unwavering. Throughout the story, it mentions that many parts of the tradition of the lottery have been forgotten or changed over the years. Jackson is pointing out how tradition continues to hold power even when the original meaning of tradition is lost, or the purpose of the said tradition is purposeless. The villagers have blindly accepted the lottery and are so loyal to it that they do not question it but are willing to make changes to their tradition in order to continue to uphold their annual ritual.

The Fragility of Tradition: The Slips of Paper

Another use of symbolism that Jackson depicts through objects is the slips of paper that depict the fragility of the villagers, both physically and mentally. Mr. Summers, a character in the short story, saw that switching the wooden chips that were originally placed inside the black box to slips of paper would be fitting. Jackson uses this to show how weak-minded the villagers’ are. Jackson writes, “Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations.” The fact that Jackson draws attention to Mr. Summer’s switching from wooden ships to slips of paper makes the reader see how the villagers were weak-minded in seeing a simple change from chips to paper was successful. Mr. Summers and the villagers were not thinking about the success or even validity of the lottery. They only focused on the surface – the slips of paper. Though Jackson uses this to show how one single change symbolizes a broader meaning. The slips of paper symbolize the fragility of the villagers and the human body. In paragraph 63, Jackson uses imagery to symbolize the fragility of the villagers in saying, “…he dropped all the papers but those onto the ground. where the breeze caught them and lifted them off”.

The paper is fragile, with one wrong move and a slip of paper tear. Characters are seen throughout the short story, gripping it and crumbling it. Jackson uses this imagery to show that just one single weak slip of paper with a dark black spot on it determines the life of a villager, in this case, Tessie Hutchinson. The fragility of the paper contrasts with the harshness or even power of death. It is no telling that Shirley Jackson used symbolism and imagery throughout the short story. From the small details like the village square and Mrs. Hutchinson’s apron to the significance of the black wooden box and lastly to the slips of paper, all symbolize how much tradition is valued in society and how society follows said tradition blindly and without question. The village square and Mrs. Hutchinson’s apron represent the nonchalant attitude society holds towards certain traditions. The black wooden box represents our blind loyalty and acceptance of tradition, and the slips of paper represent how weak-minded and fragile society is mentally and physically. Jackson uses symbolism and imagery to show the reader the power tradition holds over society and how blindly following and accepting traditions without question of their purpose, morality, or effectiveness is something we should question as a society.


  1. Jackson, S. (1948). The Lottery. The New Yorker, 27(26), 20-25.
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The Lottery Imagery: Symbolism and Imagery Revealing the Power of Tradition. (2023, Aug 25). Retrieved from