How does Jackson describe the black box and the slip of paper in "The Lottery?"

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The black box used for the annual lottery drawing was in dilapidated condition because it was so old. Shirley Jackson describes it as follows.

The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.

Mr. Summers, who is in charge of the lottery drawings, keeps asking for the villagers to present him with a new box, but he never gets his wish. This suggests that the people are secretly hoping that the lotteries will come to an end when the box becomes useless. If they were to chip in to provide a brand-new box, it would be tantamount to voting to continue the lottery drawings for another hundred years or so. They obviously loathe the black box which symbolizes the horrible final event they are all too familiar with. When Mr. Summers asks for some help in holding the box

...there was a hesitation before two men. Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter. came forward to hold the box steady on the stool while Mr. Summers stirred up the papers inside it. 

One of the papers contains a black spot. There will be two drawings. The first will determine the family selected for the second drawing. The same black spot will be placed back in the black box along with blank slips to total the number of members in the chosen family. Shirley Jackson describes the fatal slip when Bill Hutchinson forces it out of his wife Tessie's hand.

It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal company office.

Only the Hutchinsons participate in the second drawing. They are Bill, Sr., Tessie, Bill, Jr., teenage Nancy, and little Davy. All the other slips are allowed to blow away in the wind so that there would be no chance of any member of the selected family secretly pocketing a blank slip to show in case he or she had gotten the black spot. Tessie, it would seem, might be capable of doing something like that in order to avoid her fate. 

Although the black box seems terribly old, it is not the first one to be used for these annual ceremonies. 

There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here.

It is the weight of tradition that keeps these simple people from abandoning their lottery. The children cannot escape from the tradition because they are indoctrinated at the earliest possible age. Little Davy Hutchinson represents the coming generation. Although he cannot be more than two years old, he is being taught how to draw the slip of paper that will doom one member of his family, and then how to draw the slip that could have easily resulted in his being stoned to death by his mother, father, big sister, older brother, and some three hundred of his family's friends and neighbors. 

 

 

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The Lottery

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