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

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.