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Symbolism In The Lottery By Shirley Jackson: Symbols & Imagery

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The Lottery' is a story written by Shirley Jackson, first published within the 1948 issue of the magazine 'The New Yorker.' It's been said to be one of the simplest American literature short stories created. The title of the story 'The Lottery' refers to an unquestioned ritual that takes place during a small farming town annually and requires all members of the community to draw sheets of paper to work out a 'winner.' Sadly, the winner of the lottery must be stoned till they die due to fallacious and ancient belief that this may help their crops to prosper, although most villagers of the community don't remember that this can be why they still perform the ritual. In this paper, I argue that in 'The Lottery' Shirley Jackson uses symbolism and irony to portray the difficulty the villagers stumble upon when attempting to accept changes to their persistent traditions.

In the lottery, Shirley Jackson includes symbolism to help the readers visualize the message that she is trying to convey in the story. There are multiple instances of symbolism, for example, the black box. The black box is an example of symbolism because the black box represents tradition, hence the villagers' reluctance to replace it, despite its shabbiness. The box also implicitly symbolizes death. This symbolic aspect of the box, however, comes more from its function than its form. Its blackness symbolizes death. The box is a reminder of the town's history. This reminder tells the parents that they need to keep the lottery going, thanks to the sacrifices made by their ancestors; they are trying not to be responsible for breaking the continuous cycle of lotteries that have left the village successful. The shabby, decrepit state of the box shows that this tradition is outworn and useless if it ever had a use. The use of the box when conducting the lottery may symbolize what fate lies in front of them.

A second example that was included in the story was stoning. The stoning is a very important part of the short story. Stoning is an activity that requires multiple people to engage in. Everyone is taking part in the stoning from adults too especially children (the main ones collecting big stones). Stones have been available for a while now and were one of the first few resources that homo-sapiens used. The practice of stoning has been an integral part of history since back in the biblical eras. Then, using stones turned into a form of slaughtering others and was used against religious groups or believers. It symbolized the exclusion of different beliefs other than theirs to reinforce the ideas and beliefs of the villagers.

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The characters' names are an example of symbolism used in the story by Shirley Jackson. A few other symbols that can't be overlooked are the names within the story text are Mr. Graves, Mr. Summers, Mrs. Delacroix. For instance, Graves is self-explanatory in this it could represent death. Summers could be a symbol because it represents the season the lottery is held. Delacroix is a French word that means 'of the cross', which has relevance because this can be a spiritual reference in an exceeding town that employs a pagan ritual of human sacrifice and a very traditional Christian ritual for a thriving increase in cropping. Also, the three-legged stool is another symbol. It is not common to be able to find a stool that has three legs. Most people have stools that have four legs on them. The fact that the author took the time to make us aware that the stool only had three legs add more oddness to the story.

Shirley Jackson focuses on the risks of unknowingly following traditions and rituals throughout her story 'The Lottery.' While Jackson isn't suggesting that each one tradition and rituals are negative or threatening, she does illustrate the risks attached to blindly following traditions simply for the sake of carrying on the custom. In Jackson's story, the unnamed community continues to follow a brutal ritual, where each citizen is forced to draw an error of paper and risks being stoned to death by their neighbors if they draw the slip with the dot on the slip. Jackson emphasizes the senseless nature of the lottery by mentioning the varied aspects of the tradition that were lost to time and therefore the incontrovertible fact that the ritual is predicated on an ancient superstitious belief.

Old Man Warner portrays one of the few people in the story who are strict about the traditions, and who refuses to acknowledge any sort of change to the annual rituals while they enforce blindly following the senseless tradition. Tessie Hutchinson's brutal death heart-rendering highlights the risks of blindly following tradition as Jackson intended. Her story influences readers to question the character and performance of certain traditions and cautions readers about the risks of blindly conforming to society's expectations. A lottery is usually thought of as something good because it always involves winning something like money or prizes. In this lottery, it's not what they win but it's what's lost. It is ironic how Old man Warner believes that being civilized means sticking to what has always been done in their customs, which is to kill people. He thinks that people would act barbaric without the lottery being in place how it is now.

In Conclusion, the story of the lottery illustrated how humans mistreat one another. Tess Hutchinson just got unlucky when it came to the lottery since she first showed up late claiming that she was washing dishes then ended up getting the black dot after her husband got the dot the first time for the family, unfortunately. The villagers don’t tend to stray from their continuous traditions and are reluctant to engage in changes to what they were already accustomed to. The villagers showed no remorse when stoning Tess, even her best friend picked up the biggest stone she could find to throw at her. The children looked as if they enjoyed stoning the most. At the beginning of the story, it makes us aware of children collecting stones but you would not have thought that that was for stoning. People could think that it was for skipping stones on the lake. The story shifted from joyous people to poker faces showing little emotion when drawing the slips to see whose family will be chosen. Shirley Jackson uses vivid descriptions to help the reader to imagine what is going on throughout the story. The tone and setting set at the beginning of the story changes as the reader continue to read the text. The author uses different literary devices such as Imagery, Symbolism, and etc to better portray the message that she was trying to convey.

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Symbolism In The Lottery By Shirley Jackson: Symbols & Imagery. (2021, August 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 4, 2023, from
“Symbolism In The Lottery By Shirley Jackson: Symbols & Imagery.” Edubirdie, 17 Aug. 2021,
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