In "The Lottery" what does Old Man Warner symbolize?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Old Man Warner, who is participating in the lottery for the seventy-seventh time, is a staunch believer in the annual ceremony of the lottery.  His presence in the chilling narrative of "The Lottery" is symbolic of at least three things:

  • For one, it represents the blind acceptance of tradition. When, for instance, another character mention that some villages have done away with such a lottery, Warner "snorts,"

"Pack of crazy fools," he said. "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First think you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery," he added petulantly

Ironically, in his blind convoluted thinking, abolishing the lottery would take people back to primitive times. For, in truth, the brutal ritual of the lottery bespeaks of the most savage of all man's traits.

  • Another way that Old Warner acts as a symbol is in his representation of a respectful faith in supersitious beliefs.  For, he truly believes that the act of stoning a scapegoat for the village's bad luck will bring in June "corn be heavy," a good crop.
  • A third way in which Old Man Warner is symbolic is that his attendance of 77 times represents a number from the Bible that carries significance, one of Jackson's many allusions.  This number falls among the numerical categories found on the biblical holograph and is equated with "piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit," from Hebrews 4:12.  Thus, the aged Warner represents the violent force in human nature as he delights in killing. This sadistic nature of Warner is exemplified in the ending of the story as once Tessie Hutchinson draws the fatal slip, it is Old Man Warner who urges people to begin the stoning, "Come on, come on, everyone."


kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Lottery," Old Man Warner has a number of symbolic meanings. Firstly, he symbolizes tradition. Specifically, he represents the desire to preserve traditions, no matter what that tradition might involve. When Mr. Adams says that one village is thinking of giving up the lottery, Warner calls them "crazy fools" and notes that "there has always been a lottery." For Warner, the lottery must be preserved and protected. If it disappears, then the village's established way of life will disappear with it:

First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns.

In addition, Old Man Warner's comments about young people are symbolic of generational differences. His comment that young people are "fools," because they want to get rid of the lottery, demonstrates the clash between old and new, tradition and modernity, and social progress and stagnation.  

Note that at the end of the story, it is Old Man Warner who is urging everyone to throw the stones at Tessie Hutchinson. This is significant because it demonstrates that social progress will not win in this village. As long as there is a vocal opponent to change, like Old Man Warner, society cannot move forward or modernize.