What does the black box symbolize in "The Lottery"?

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In "The Lottery," Jackson says that the black box represents tradition, hence the villagers' reluctance to replace it, despite its shabbiness. The box also implicitly symbolizes death. This symbolic aspect of the box, however, comes more from its function than its form. Its blackness symbolizes death. The story that it was made with pieces of the original box, used when the village was first founded, symbolizes tradition. The shabby, decrepit state of the box shows that this tradition is outworn and useless, if it ever had a use. The way the box is employed in conducting the lottery, however, symbolizes something which might grandiosely by called fate or destiny, but is more accurately called dumb luck.

This dumb luck is the antithesis of both civilization and the American dream. Dumb luck decrees that individuals have no agency. If you are born to wealthy parents who care for you assiduously, you will be rich and happy without ever exerting the slightest effort. If you are born in the mud, you will die in the mud. Nothing you do makes the slightest difference. Nothing Tessie Hutchinson does makes the slightest difference before or after her name has been drawn. She is purely the victim of bad luck.

It is no exaggeration to say that the progress of civilization has been a history of warfare against this idea. We judge a society as civilized if someone who is born without any particular advantages, someone like Benjamin Franklin or Abraham Lincoln, can triumph by perseverance, hard work and talent. Although this is a mark of civilization generally, it is particularly vital in America, a land traditionally without hereditary titles and a stratified class system. The idea that your life or death depends merely upon the luck of the draw, rather than on anything you can influence by your own words or conduct: this idea goes against everything Americans of all political persuasions have historically revered, and it is this that is symbolized by the shabby old black box.

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As stated in the previous answer, the black box symbolizes death. The color black is associated with death and mourning in the Western world. Most of the villagers fear the black box. Out of it, a death sentence comes. After it is placed on a stool for the ritualistic drawing of the lottery slips, we are shown the villagers' fear and awe.

The villagers kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool.

The box also symbolizes a superstitious ritual that has outlived its usefulness. The villagers now use a second box made out of pieces of the first, but even this one is starting to fall apart.

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.

All of this description symbolizes how outworn this ritual is.

The text is at pains to show that the villagers have forgotten much of the ritual. They change it when they need to: for example, they have replaced the original wood chips in the box with slips of paper. The box has no set home during the year but is stored with different people, including Mr. Summers, Mr. Graves, and Mr. Martin on his grocery shelf. This shows that the community as a whole is complicit in hanging onto this tradition, even as it grows more careless in maintaining the details of it.

The box, splintered, rebuilt, faded, and stained, symbolizes the way people will hang on to a destructive practice far too long. The villagers clearly could make a decision to change the central sacrifice that the box symbolizes into a more symbolic and less destructive ritual. We know this because they have changed other aspects of the ritual. Yet they go on mindlessly clinging to the most destructive aspects of a superstition. The story as a whole encourages us to look at what mindless rituals or destructive traditions we might want to get rid of in our own society.

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The Lottery--Shirley Jackson

The black box in "The Lottery" represents tradition. According to the story, Mr. Summers often suggested making a new box, as the black box was shabby, but no one wanted to do anything. The reason for this is given; no one wanted to tamper with tradition. Here is what the text says:

Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. 

Furthermore, we can see how much the people venerated the box, because the current black box was made with original pieces of the first one. Here is what the text says:

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.

The accent on tradition is important, because the village continues this ritualistic murder based on tradition. No one really knows why they continue the lottery. All they know is that they have been doing it for a long time. 

In addition to this point, the box also symbolizes death. When people draw from the black box, they are drawing more than a piece of paper. They are drawing to see who will die. In this sense, the black box symbolizes death. 

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The black box symbolizes death.

In Shirley Jackson's dark tale of man's blind adherence to tradition, a community gathers mindlessly for their traditional lottery, a drawing of names in order to select the "scapegoat" for that year. Despite most people's having forgotten the original purpose for the lottery, the traditional act of stoning the "scapegoat" is carried out yearly with the prevailing wisdom being, as Old Man Warner says, "There's always been a lottery." And, before saying this, he recites a time-worn expression, "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon."

The director of this lottery is Mr. Summers; he is in charge of the black box that contains slips of paper for each family. When the others learn that Mr. Hutchinson has drawn the one slip that designates a family, then Mr. Graves (symbolic name) picks up the five for each of the Hutchinsons and places them in the black box for Bill Hutchinson to draw. The member of the family whose slip has the black dot on it becomes the scapegoat who is then stoned to death by the others in the community.

Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal-company office....

"It isn't fair, it isn't right," Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.

Mrs. Delacroix picks up the largest stone she can hold, one that can inflict deadly force. Clearly, then, the black box containing slips of paper with a single one marked with a black spot represents death for one person.

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In Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," the black box symbolizes the foreboding that accompanies a ritualistic process the outcome of which is deliberately left unclear. Jackson sets the stage in a way that becomes apparent only in retrospect:

"...Mr. Summers...arrived in the [village] square, carrying the black wooden box, there was a murmur of conversation among the villagers...Mr. Graves followed him, carrying a three-leggged stool, and the stool was put in the center of the square and Mr. Summers set the black box down on it.  The villagers kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool, and when Mr. Summers said, 'Some of you fellows want to give me a hand?' there was a hesitation before two men, Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter, came forward to hold the box steady..."

The purpose of the black box is not yet apparent, but Jackson has imbued it with a sense of mystery or intrigue, and she emphasizes that its use dates back many years:

"The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly..."; "'Seventy-seventh year I been in the lottery,' Old Man Warner said."

And, again, as Mr. Summers sticks his hand in the box to stir the slips of paper inside:

"Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations.  Chips of wood, Mr. Summers had argued, had been all very well when the village was tiny..."

Jackson has established the setting: a village that has experienced growth over the course of many years, and that has its rituals and traditions that include the black box.  A community event of some kind will take place -- an event that is part of the village's traditions.  And we know that villagers have some trepidation regarding the black box, although that detail may not garner much attention until its purpose is revealed.  

The black box figuratively and literally sits at the center of "The Lottery."  Its contents condemn one unlucky villager to a violent, barbaric death -- the most resilient aspect of the ritual, a process most had begun to take for granted ("Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones.")  

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