In "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, how does the use of foreshadowing and symbolism convey the theme of the story?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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“The Lottery” is an ironic story in which a community chooses a person by lottery to be killed.  One of the main themes is that people will be cruel if it is acceptable or required that they be so.

A theme of the lottery is “the blind following of tradition and the negative consequences of such an action” (enotes, themes).  The first hint that something is off is when the school-children begin filling their pockets with stones.

Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones. (p. 1, see first link)

The reader should begin to wonder why Bobby is gathering stones, and why the others follow Bobby’s example.

When the adults arrive, it becomes even clearer that something is wrong.  This is not child’s play.

Soon the men began to gather. Surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes. They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed. (p. 1)

The men seem uncomfortable, foreshadowing trouble involving the stones.