Symbolism in The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson

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Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a chilling tale of a harsh ritualistic gathering conducted by people of a small village. The word lottery would typically remind someone of a drawing to win a cash prize. A better comparison to the story would be the lottery used to select troops for the Vietnam War; a lottery of death. Another would be the human sacrifices the Aztecs willingly made long ago.
     The story opens by embracing the reader with a relaxed setting, giving the anticipation for an optimistic story. “…with the fresh warmth of a full summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green (p.445).”
The discussion of children and school also gives well meaning of an organized and well-balanced village the people have put together, one the average parent would want their children raised in. “They tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands (p.445).” The thought of children playing also illustrates of a positive outlook for the rest of the story, a sense of happiness.
     It is also mentioned that the story begins on June twenty-seventh. “With the fresh warmth of a full summer day (p.445). ” Again, the setting is depicted as a bright, happy place. The date is important, because the end of June is a time when the summer has fully set in, possibly giving the meaning that change is up ahead.
     While the mood continues to be pleasant, the village gathers for what would appear to be a joyous festival everyone looks forward to. “The lottery was conducted –as were the square dances, the teen-age club, the Halloween program… (p.445).”
     In the story, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves are basically the two men in charge of making sure the lottery is conducted each year. Mr. Summers’ name seems to represent the time of the year the lottery is conducted. Mr. Graves represents the grave the chosen lottery victim will be sent to, as he has no problem administering death to those close around him.
     The lottery itself is conducted in a black box using paper-slips. The color black represents death, as the future of someone’s life will be decided from it. The dark mood is felt when it is introduced. A general feeling of nervousness is spread throughout the crowd, the younger people in particular.

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Everyone is uneasy because they know they have the same chance of being selected for death.
     The box is also well aged and losing its color. “The black box grew shabbier each year; by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color (p.446).” This represents the majority of villagers who, over the years, have grown interest in banning the ritual. “That over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery (p.448).”
     “Old man Warner snorted. “Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them (p.448).” The people who seem to be against the ritual and in favor of banning it are a younger generation. Young adults are often involved in politics and for major change, including protests. “Some places have already quit lotteries; Mrs. Adams said (p.449).”
Though, their lack to reach these efforts shows the vast amount of respect they hold for their elderly villagers, who insist a yearly human sacrifice has relevance to how much corn they will be awarded by harvest time. “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon (p.448).” This represents the dominance elders have in governing society. For example, in the United States, the minimum age one can run a seat in Congress is thirty years old, yet, an eighteen year old can be sent to war and a possible death. Change for it would be unlikely because it too follows a tradition.
The unlucky winner of this lottery is murdered by the village people (including children) in a public stoning. For a person to receive this amount of punishment would likely mean a slow, painful death. However, it leaves the reader captivated with a deeper emotion. It is similar in a way to the death of Jesus Christ, for a human to take such a vast amount of torture for such ridiculous reasons.
     “The Lottery” is a frightening reminder of how a human sacrifice ritual may have taken place, and even more alarming they may still take place in certain countries. This story can also be a reminder of how thankful people should be to not have to live in that type of society.



Works Cited

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The Freshman Reader. Alvin Community College. Mason, OH: Thomson Publishing, 2004.


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