Shirley Jackson’s Use Of Symbolism In “The Lottery”
Dating back to before written history and even earlier than oral known history, people have always had names. Names are and will continue to be a prominent part of our culture as they are essential in everyday life. As soon as a baby is born, parents rush to name their child with the most appropriate name, one that best fits the baby and also agrees with their religion and culture. Names are not just a means to call the attention or refer to an individual, they also are meant to provide a unique and descriptive meaning to represent the individual. Shirley Jackson, a famous American horror and mystery writer, has taken full advantage of the symbolism behind names, in the short story The Lottery. The Lottery is a story regarding a small town in Vermont, that every year holds a ritual, the lottery, where the townspeople’s names, written on a piece of paper, are placed in a black box and then the chosen one gets rocks thrown at them. Shirley Jackson through symbolic names has further portrayed her negative feelings toward religion in the already dark and twisted story, utilizing characters such as Tessie Hutchinson, Mr. and Mrs.Adams and the family of Delacroix.’
Tessie Hutchinson, the protagonist of the story, is an allusion to Anne Hutchinson, the religious reformer in the 1630s. Anne Hutchinson is a brave historical figure that stood up in support of feminism and religious reforms. Her courageous acts led her to be banned from Boston and later be one of the founders of Rhode Island. Shirley purposefully gave them the same last name, so the reader would immediately think of Anne Hutchinson when reading about Tessie. Tessie Hutchinson throughout the story was challenging traditions and gender roles. The lottery was an important event for the whole town, “the people of the village gathered in the square”, yet Tessie said that she “Clean forgot what day it was”. Having Tessie forget the day that the lottery is, already signifies the fact that she doesn’t consider this ritual as important as other townspeople, in fact, she would have preferred washing her dishes than attending the event. Another instance when Tessie breaks the norms is when she speaks up against the unfairness of the process while her husband told her to “Shut up, Tessie”. The gender roles in this scene seem to have switched, Tessie, taking the more masculine role where she spoke up for her family, while her husband took a more passive role as he didn’t want to go against Mr.Summer, the authority in this scenario.
Anne Hutchinson was also known for her defiance to gender roles, during a time when women were silent and led by their husbands, she took charge and advocated her right to preach. Another similarity between the two was the protest they put up against what they thought was not right. Tessie Hutchinson believed the process of the lottery was unjust and thus she took action against it, she had spoken up multiple times despite being ignored by all the townspeople. Then the more she spoke against it, the more violence would be shown against her in the stoning. The parallelism between the two character’s story, Anne being banished from Massachusetts and Tessie from her town despite them both being liked by the townin the beginning, shows that Shirley Jackson alluded to Anne Hutchison through Tessie Hutchison. Making Tessie Hutchison the main character of this short story, tells the readers Shirley’s true opinions regarding religion as the reader is supposed to empathize with the main character which in this case is Tessie, the gender and tradition defiant.’ Shirley also shows her discontent with religion through biblical figures such as Mr. and Mrs.Adams, two of the townspeople. Adam, according to the bible, is the first man that was created and also the one that along with Eve led to the destruction of the world. The Adam family created by Shirley is not much different from the biblical one, Mr. Adams was the first one to start the lottery, he picked his piece of paper first. Just like in the bible Adam was the first man to be created, in The Lottery, Mr. Adam was the first to get a piece of paper that would decide his life.
Later in the story, Mr. Adams says that “‘They do say’ Mr.Adams said to Old Man Warne, who stood next to him,’that over in the northern village they’re talking of giving up the lottery’”. and likewise Mrs.Adams says that “ Some places have already quit lotteries”. Adam and Eve in the biblical story serve as the destroyers of the pure recently created world and the originators of all the negative ways of life. Likewise in The Lottery, the Adams serve the purpose of breaking down the tradition and introduce a new way in which the black box would not be used. In the bible, the world prior to them was innocent and them gaining knowledge lead to negative and destructive thoughts. In the Lottery, in contrast, the practice of the lottery is clearly a hateful thing and removing it would be the better action. Thus, Shirley through this biblical reference portrayed the view that despite what might be presented to an individual as better by a tradition or religion is not necessarily so.’ Through Mr. and Mrs.Delacroix Shirley Jakcson shows the corruption of the church and their followers. In Latin and other romantic languages, the name Delacroix means “of the cross” which can be taken as symbolizing the Christian church. The Delacroix family since the beginning could be seen doing different things, Dickie Delacroix “stuffed his pockets full of stone”, Mrs. Delacroix speaking to Tessie and Mr.Delacroix drawing his paper.
All the family members are doing completely different things from one another, which could be taken as a commentary about churches and their involvement with everything. Mrs.Delacroix seems to have a friendly relationship with Tessie as she is the first person Tessie approaches, yet after Tessie is chosen she tells her to “Be a good sport, Tessie” and even later “ selected a stone so large she had she had to pick it up with both hands”. The contradicting behavior shown by Mrs.Delacroix quite clearly demonstrated Jackson’s message that the church is corrupt. Through the character of Mrs.Delacroix, Shirley Jackson demonstrated the change of behavior in treatment in a beneficial way that would most likely be seen by the church during the earlier times, where churches would take advantage of avid believers and later abandone them when not necessary. Another evidence of corruption is the pronunciation of “Delacroix (de-la-KWAH) as Dellacroy”.
The difference in pronunciation signifies the difference in meaning as it’s no longer of the cross, serving God, but rather now a butchered word that is unlike the original; likewise the Christian church had strayed away from its original means to a dishonest institution. The Lottery, a horror story at first is more than just that, through symbolism in the names of the characters Shirley Jackson portrayed her unfavorable view of religions and traditions. Shirley Jackson uses names such as Tessie Hutchinson, Mr. and Mrs.Adams and Delacroix to further insinuate her point. Tessie Hutchinson alludes to Anne Hutchinson, a religious reformer who was banished from her town. She also uses biblical characters such as the Adams to show that not all traditions are supposed to be continued without being questioned first. Lastly, the usage of the Delacroix family, signifies the Christian church and the corruption behind religious institutions.
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