In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," why are the villagers in the story reluctant to upgrade the black box?

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mdelmuro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" explores several themes, but one of the most basic ideas it explores is the idea of tradition and what it means to follow a tradition for which the origins are unclear. The village for decades seems to follow this human sacrifice idea out of sheer tradition. Old Man Warner, the oldest character in the story, makes a vague reference to the lottery being held as a sacrifice to the crops when he says, "Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.'" However, he follows up this statement with "There's always been a lottery," again suggestion that tradition, not practicality, keeps this event going.

The black box in the story is symbolic of this tradition. According to the narrator:

"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." 

Still, the villagers, despite chatter that they'd replace the box that year allowed the topic "to fade off without anything's being done." While the villagers continue to go through with the tradition each year, which the current box symbolizes, an improved box would give the new generation ownership of the event. As villages around this unnamed town show, the ending of this tradition might be something they desire. Perhaps the unspoken hope is that the box goes into complete disrepair and the village forgets about the gruesome tradition.