Symbolism in the Lottery

For most people the word “lottery” conjures up thoughts of winning a multi-million dollar prize, but for the villagers in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” the word brings forth a sense of dread. The lottery is an old tradition in the village that happens every June 27th and starts out as a seemingly innocent event. However as the process of the lottery begins, it is obvious the lottery is a thing the villagers fear. The tradition of the lottery goes further back than anyone in the village can remember.

The black box used for the lottery is very old and is starting to fall apart yet the villagers refuse to replace it, most likely because of the story that the box was made with parts of the original box. The black box represents the lottery itself, and is the symbol that all of the villagers immediately associate with the lottery. The fact that the box is black can be viewed as foreboding, as black is the color usually associated with death.

Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones.

The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box. (265) The use of stones, like the black box, is one of the few original traditions still kept. Apart from the lottery, the village seems to be a quaint and civilized community. Stoning is a very brutal and outdated technique, yet it is used by the villagers. The villagers do not hesitate to use the stones on whomever the lottery has chosen. They revert from their peaceful facade to people who are capable of gruesome and unmerciful violence.

While they have changed some of the old traditions, such as using pieces of paper instead of chips of wood, they still hold on to their over the top method of sacrifice. The lottery itself is another symbol in the story. It represents many outdated traditions that people follow with blind faith simply because the tradition has always gone on, no matter how illogical it might be. “They do say,” Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery. ”

Old Man Warner snorted. Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while…”. (262) Some of the younger generations in other villages have begun to question the tradition of the lottery and its practicality, just as some real-life outdated traditions must be questioned. “The Lottery” is a warning telling us not to be blind slaves to tradition. If we are, the consequences could be severe.

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