symbolism as a tool for shirley jacksonIn what ways does symbolism become a tool for Shirley Jackson? Do symbols make the reader’s job easier or more difficult? Explain with examples from the...

symbolism as a tool for shirley jackson

In what ways does symbolism become a tool for Shirley Jackson? Do symbols make the reader’s job easier or more difficult? Explain with examples from the narrative.

Asked on by boladinni89

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A most cleverly written story, Shirley Jackson's use of understatement disarms the reader; however, at the same time, there is something that is insidiously evil emerging in her narrative and the symbols are what provide the suggestions of this evil.  The example cited by post #6 of the sweaters is most apt.

booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Post #5 is so awesome. How much fun to read a story and find that the author has been clever enough to provide us (as readers) with not just one story—the literal one—but a second more figurative and symbolic one if we are willing to pay attention.

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to find stories that provide symbolism, or sometimes sources that explain what those symbols mean. Of course, there has to be some flexibility in applying what we see as symbols—a suspension of belief in all things literal, and logical elements of the story to support our suppositions. With these things in mind, we can often find new meaning in stories that we missed the first time we read them. The names Jackson uses, of course, are symbolic. The black spot on the paper, which marks who will be "sacrificed" also reminds me of the "black death." The plague was revealed by a round spot, and it resulted in death. I find it easy to associate the black spot (black—symbolic of death) with death. Just a thought.

The symbols reinforce the mood, drive the plot along and support the themes.

vangoghfan's profile pic

vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Practically every significant word of the opening sentences of the story is symbolic and also ironic:

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.

All the words marked in boldface type here are ironic in the sense that they suggest life in a story that will end in gruesome death.  Clearly Jackson intended this sentence to be an example of ironic symbolism -- or, in any case, that is how the sentence definitely functions.

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sarahc418 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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I agree with the previous posters that Shirley Jackson employs symbolism to foreshadow. I also think the symbolism at the beginning with the "fresh-warmth" and the name "Mr. Summers" are meant to juxtapose the tragedy of the ending. Without these positive, realistic scenes at the beginning, it is impossible to get the full affect that this is just a normal-everyday town. How can Shirley Jackson create the horror of the ending without the seeming perfection and happiness of the beginning of the story? The illustration of the symbol of the lottery - a symbol of inhumanity found even in contemporary society - conveys to the reader Jackson's intent.

Another important symbol is the black box with the people's names. The black represents death, incredible sadness or depression and the overall morose tone the story takes on at this point in the story.

To the second question, yes, symbolism makes more work for the reader. A reader can of course read any story for a surface level understanding, but to really understand Jackson's message, the symbolism and other literary devices must be taken into account. Good readers look closely for symbolism as clues to what an author is telling them.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Symbols are incorporated in the story by Jackson as a tool for various purposes, including directing reader attention to the upcoming resolution. For instance, Jackson describes the women coming to the gathering place as wearing "faded" dresses and "sweaters." Aside from the criticism that her description is wanting in creating 3-dimensional reality, the description calls attention to two elements that will be important for understanding the resolution.

The first is the uniformity of faded dresses; the women seem automaton-like in their lack of originality, an important element for understanding Jackson's thematic points relating to the resolution. The second is the sweaters themselves. The description inspires an image of each woman having her sweater fully on, so when Tessie comes running out with her sweater only thrown about her--not fully on--our attention is arrested and directed to the notion that Tessie may also be different as well as obviously singled out.

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Jackson also employs symbolism in the names of the characters. Mr. Summers carries out his important job of determining the doomed lottery winner each summer; there is Mr. Graves, his assistant in death. There are Biblical references in the innocent Dickie Delacroix ("of the cross") and in the Adams and Eva (Adam and Eve). Tessie Hutchinson is based on the Massachusetts religious dissident, Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643). And could it be that the eldest member of the village, Old Man Warner, should have done just that?--"warn her."

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

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I think we need to answer this question by refering to the way in which Jackson employs symbolism as a form of foreshadowing. An excellent example is the seemingly innocent game that the children play at the beginning of the story and the way in which it is portrayed as an innocent childhood diversion. The symbolic significance of the stones, and the way that even Tessie's little boy and best friend use them to stone her to death at the end becomes chillingly relevant by the time we have finished the story. The stones therefore foreshadows what is to follow.

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

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Symbolism is a way to get through to readers on a more profound level. For one thing, it requires the reader to think. The reader has to be somewhat clever to get to the inner meaning, and by having the reader work for the meaning makes it stick. The story definitely leaves an impression because of the subject matter, but then the reader should step back and realize the larger meaning.
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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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I believe that Jackson's use of symbolism makes the job easier for the reader if the story is preempted with proper explanation.

For example, students many not understand why the villagers accept the idea of human sacrifice so blindly. The story even begins so unassumingly.

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.

It could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.

The idea that everyone is, basically, "okay" with what is about to happen may shock some readers.

The symbolism of the black box offers some concern for readers as well. The color black typically refers to death. The idea of reaching in ones hand to claim death can be dis-concerning for readers.

By using the color black, Jackson allows readers to understand the outcome of the lottery as being one which is deadly.

Therefore, her use of symbolism makes readers' job easier. Each of the villagers simply reach into the box. Perhaps the most pertinent image of the feelings of the villagers is seen when Davy reaches into the box:

Davy put his hand into the box and laughed.

While young and not completely aware, Davy simply does what is expected.

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