Is it not interesting that Ms. Jackson also points to the fact that the black box is not freshly black and dark, but worn and
no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained/
The fact that the black is faded indicates the antiquity of the custom, the blind adherence to it regardless of any relevancy or meaning. The lottery, like the faded box, is brought out annually and used for the simple reason that it is customary. The box is just the box; much of the "ritual had been forgotten or discarded." So, now it symbolizes not just the ritual, but the "opium of custom" as Emerson termed it.
I feel that Jackson uses black primarily because many cultures associate black with death. People in mourning or those going to funerals often wear black or something very dark. Black is also associated with evil: Dracula could never wear anything other than a black cloak. With Batman, there is a sense of the unknown and the mysterious in that he is dressed in black. We think of days of disaster as black days: the attack on the Twin Towers, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, etc. Witches always wear black (unless their "good witches"...).
With all of these examples, we can see black providing a sense of a black day, a dark mood, a feeling of mystery—even fear—(while we still don't know what's happening), and ultimately of evil as the intent of the townspeople is made clear to the reader. Death is also present, but there seems to be a "blackness" about the "souls" of those who do not question the murder of a neighbor simply because "it's always been done this way."
The two black items that stand out for me are the black box and the black spot on the paper.
All the answers already given are very helpful. Black has indeed long been associated, symbolically, with death and evil in western culture. (Whether this is true of other cultures I am not sure.)
What fascinates me about such symbolism is how and why it originally came into existence. Why, of all the colors available, is black the one that tends to be associated with death and evil?
Here are some possibilities:
* Black is often thought of as the opposite of white, in the same way that darkness is often thought of as the opposite of light.
* If black is associated with darkness, then black may be associated with death and evil because we think of death as the absence of light and we think of darkness as a time when it is more likely for evil to occur and the time when it is easier for evil to take place. Dead people, particularly after burial, presumably can no longer see light of any kind, and so this may be one reason that we associate death with blackness.
* Darkness is often associated with fear, with lack of control, with the possibility of danger, and with uncertainty. If we enter a dark room, our immediate instinct is to want to illuminate it. Perhaps these are more reasons that we associated black/darkness with death and with evil and white/light with security and knowledge and what is good. Imagine how much more afraid of the dark our primitive ancestors must have been.
In any case, notice how the imagery of blackness contrasts so strikingly with all the imagery contained in the very first sentence of the story.
Black has a rich symbolism history across cultures and over time. it is most often thought of in reference to death but also symbolizes such diverse things as mystery, fear, anger, sadness, and evil. It can also symbolize earth. By emphasizing black, Jackson touches upon and enlightens many major aspects fo the story:
- black box: the mystery and stable presence of the ritual
- black spot: the ultimate evil end in death
- Tessie: her emotions of fear, anger, sadness
- stones: their relatedness to earth for which fertility is sought
I don't believe anyone mentioned the other symbolic meaning of the color black: EVIL. The box is an evil tool used by the group, whose actions are also evil, though they actually believe their ritual pays homage to some sort of higher being.
Let's just put it this way: when we think of black we don't think of happiness, light and birds singing sweetly in the trees whilst beautiful maidens accompany them, Disney style, do we! Clearly the colour black is used in this brilliant story to foreshadow the dark events that will come.
Think about the traditional color of clothing worn at funerals or the color of armbands or ribbons used on sport team uniforms to mark the death of an individual important to the team. In Western society, black is interpreted as being symbolic of death.
The color black typically symbolizes death. Therefore, it is completely appropriate for Jackson to use this color to denote the fate of the villagers during the lottery. No other color would work. The use of blue or yellow would be too ironic for the subdued message of the story.