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What is the fundamental symbol in "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson?

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curlygirl | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 3, 2007 at 5:08 AM via web

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What is the fundamental symbol in "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson?

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 3, 2007 at 5:22 AM (Answer #1)

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I would say it's the black box.  It symbolizes the tradition that no one can clearly remember the how or why it started or why they continue to practice.  It is old and shabby, falling apart, and the wooden chips have long since gone missing--now replaced by the black and white pebbles/marbles.  The only thing people haven't forgotten is to get there early and collect enough stones to throw at the poor, unfortunate "winner" of the lottery.

The box is in need of renovation (like the practice of the lottery itself), but no one bothers.  It is simply put up on the shelf and kept there safely until the next year's lottery is upon them.

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teacherscribe | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted December 3, 2007 at 5:40 AM (Answer #2)

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The black box is indeed the main symbol.  It represents tradition.  The villagers are not sure about the box's history.  They recall a chant and a certain handshake that used to go with it.  Indeed the original box is tattered and worn, barely  holding together.  They did make some modifications, replacing wood chips with slips of paper as the villages population grew.  The only thing they are really certain about is the use of rocks.

The Lottery, like the box, is shrouded in mystery.  No one really knows why they conduct it (other than Old Man Warner making a reference to it having to do with good corn crops in June).  They just follow along because it has always been done. 

There has been talk of getting rid of the lottery, indeed some towns already have, and there seems to be some talk among the young people of junking the lottery.  In this way the lottery is like the box.  It is barely clinging together.  But just as the villagers pull the box out once a year and go through the proceedings, observing what ceremonies and protocols they remember, they still obediently observe the lottery.

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