In "The Lottery," how do the major symbols challenge our view of these characters as human beings, both positively and negatively?
When I look at this brilliant story, I certainly see more evidence of the way that symbols are used to present humans in a negative way rather than in a positive way. Let me explain. Certainly the impact of the story has so much to do in the way that what starts off as an innocent, happy, summer day scene suddenly becomes something much more sinister and disturbing. The various symbols in the story develop in a similar way. Consider, for example, the stones. At the beginning of the story, we are told that they are being used by the children in a sort of game, as groups gather stones and try and defend them from other groups:
Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and teh other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix--the villagers pronounced this name "Dellacroy"--eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys.
This is a scene that we can all identify with as some kind of wide game is described. However, let us go to the end of the story suddenly, and see the real significance of these stones and how they symbolise the unthinking savagery and cruelty of all of the village:
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 teh box. Mrs. Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar. "Come on," she said. "Hurry up."
Note the way that Mrs. Delacroix, who just a few minutes ago was chatting to Tessie Hutchinson as only an old friend can, picks up such a big stone she needs both hands. Her years of friendship are suddenly voided by the lottery. The use of such symbols as the stones in this story therefore only show humans as savage, cruel creatures who commit atrocities in the name of tradition, even when the people they commit these atrocities on are their nearest and dearest.