The Use of Symbolism in 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...