How is the black box symbolic in "The Lottery?"

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because it has been passed down from generation to generation, the black box of "The Lottery" is a piece of town history and tradition. Everyone knows what it represents and how it functions, and although it has been scuffed and damaged, it still holds power through its ritual.

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.
(Jackson, "The Lottery,"

The box serves as a reminder of the town's history. This reminder tells the people that they should keep the lottery going, because of the sacrifices made by their ancestors; they don't want to be responsible for breaking the unbroken chain of lotteries that has left the town successful. However, it also symbolizes death, as the paper picked from it will lead directly to a person being stoned; despite its representation of a rich cultural heritage, the box is a morbid symbol for the powers of tradition and fear.

mkcapen1 | Student

In the short story “The Lottery” the black box has withstood time and despite its worn appearance has been relatively unchanged.  The black box is representative of tradition.  For the people of the community the lottery has always been held.  The black box and the lottery are a tradition. No one really knows when it began or where it came from, but remains.  Some of the younger people questioned discontinuing the lottery, but they were put down, so it continued to be held.

The black box is also a representation of death.  The names go into the box and the one that is chosen is not the lucky winner but the one chosen to die.  Tied into this symbol is the symbol of irony.  The story initially makes the black box and the lottery seem like something good.  People rush to gather for the opportunity to draw their names from the box.  However, in the end of the story, one realizes the irony of the situation.