Discuss specifically the possible symbolism of the elements in "The Lottery."Discuss the description of the black box; the description of the lottery ceremony itself; and the use of stones to...

Discuss specifically the possible symbolism of the elements in "The Lottery."

Discuss the description of the black box; the description of the lottery ceremony itself; and the use of stones to dispatch the "winner" of the lottery.

 

 

 

 

 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A haunting short story, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" juxtaposes ordinary circumstances and activities with ones that are macabre.  Even in her use of symbols, the ordinary become darkly significant.  For instance, Mrs. Hutchinson's apron that in her haste she has forgotten to remove represents ordinary daily life that is measured against the black spot that is on her slip of paper, marking her abruptly for death.

The black box, is splintered badly along one side, and grows shabbier every year, yet this coffin-like box is pulled out every year because it is part of a tradition.  Representing death, it is placed upon the three-legged stool by Mr. Summers and the villagers "kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool" in their fear of its ominous portent.

The ceremony of drawing lots is symbolic of the ancient custom of finding a scapegoat for the evils of the village.  By sending a scapegoat out into the desert to die, the rest of the village would be saved from bad luck.  But, now, much of "the ritual had been forgotten or discarded," so Mr. Summers has slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that were formerly used. Whereas there was formerly a ritual salute and some procession, much has been "allowed to lapse."  But, the drawing of the lottery is performed yearly simply because it is customary: When Mrs. Adams says, "Some places have already quit lotteries," Old Man Warner says "stoutly,"

"Nothing but trouble in that....Pack of young fools." 

Clearly, Mr. Warner believes in the lottery simply because it is tradition.

The pile of stones, those "symbols of preposterous time" as Golding writes in Lord of the Flies, lies waiting for the victim.  The stones represent the ancient and intrinsic predilection of people for violence and sadistic pleasure.  Striking with stone after stone becomes an unthinking brutal act, a primitive ritual, that is part of their natures: 

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

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