Relate one of the following literary elements back to the short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson.The elements are theme, motif, symbol, irony, foil, moral etc.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With a foil character being one who by his actions, speech, attitudes, etc. provides contrast to another, Bill Hutchinson, as well as his children, are foils to Tessie Hutchinson, the main character. For, Bill does not try to defend Tessie against the stoning of the others in his community when she shouts to Mr. Summers, "It isn't fair!"  Instead, he tells her to "Shut up," sheepishly going along with the cruel tradition that the community practices. Time and again, he mindlessly acquiesces to this tradition, agreeing with Mr. Summers on the procedure for drawing the lottery slip.  When Tessie makes a frantic last appeal to the logic and common sense of the community,

'I think we ought to start over,...I tell you it wasn't fair.  You didn't give him time enough to choose.  Everybody saw that.....Listen, everybody....'

Mr. Summers ignores her, saying, "Ready, Bill?"  and her husband "with one quick glance around at his wife and children, nodded."  And, when Tessie draws the fateful slip, Bill dully follows directions from Mr. Summers by going to his wife and "forced the slip of paper out of her hand.  It had the black spot on it...."  Bill merely holds it up.

The children of Tessie, who ignored her commands earlier, merely laughing are present during the lottery.  As the people prepare to stone Tessie "someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles."  As a foil, Davey, too, will do nothing to save his mother; in fact, he will unthinkingly contribute to her death without objection, just like his father.


amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the themes is tradition, or to put it bluntly, "mindless adherence to tradition." When Mr. Adams mentions that the northern village is thinking of doing away with the lottery, Old Man Warner says, "next thing you know, they'll want to go back to living in caves." The townspeople are so bound to tradition that they won't even change the deteriorating black box. They don't even remember the origins of the ritual let alone the mythological, spiritual or even practical reasons for conducting the lottery. The reply is always something like, "there's always been a lottery." This theme is metaphoric for so many things. If there is a tradition to be upheld, it better be for a good reason. "It's always been" is not a good reason. This goes for social issues (i.e. gay marriage) but also issues of the tradition of knowledge. Saying "we've always believed X" or "we've always thought X" is detrimental to the evolution of knowledge (i.e. "the world is flat). To improve, a society must be willing to at least change or get rid of traditions which serve no purpose: especially if they're harmful or morally corrupt.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is plenty of symbolism in the story in the following items:

The black box from which people draw out the names for the lottery. (Black as a symbol of death)

The weathering on the black box- Means that the tradition has been going on generation to generation.

Mr. Warner, who basically "warns" people agaist changing the tradition.

The men being the active participants in drawing the names, which means the subjugation of women.

The fact that it was a lottery means a lack of control of our fates.

Cruelty and extreme behaviors- the cultural shock that the story brings stems from an ancient tradition of barbarism which refuses to change.


alto2osu | Student

To be honest, I'd use them all if I could, but I find symbolism to be an interesting one to use in order to access the themes of this story. The symbol I'd discuss would be the voting box (the black, wooden box that contains the pieces of paper for the lottery in it).

The condition and treatment of this box is a direct reflection of the way that the townspeople see the lottery and its necessity for survival. The box is old, it's chipped, and basically decrepit. It's in need of replacement or renovation. However, though the town has discussed or broached the subject of its replacement, it just never happened. The same can be said of the lottery itself. As outside readers, we see a tradition like the lottery to be grotesque and logically unnecessary. It couldn't be more obvious to most of us that human sacrifice has little to nothing to do with crop survival (with the possible exception of a placebo-type effect in which the farmers, thinking that their season *will* be better based on the performance of the ritual, will subconsciously work harder to see their crops succeed-- basic self-fulfilling prophecy). However, for a people who have embraced the same tradition for hundreds of years, the process isn't questioned on a rational level anymore. Change is too feared to allow that to happen.

This town is basically arrested by fear of change, and the box represents this fear. The old man's small speech in the story reflects how this town feels about change. Changing the box would represent a modernization. It may lead to the modernization of other parts of the lottery. That might lead to the elimination of the lottery, which is a truly terrifying prospect for the town. Slippery slope arguments like this are often used to justify the maintenance of nonsensical traditions, but people will believe a lot of things when they fear the alternative too much to act.