What are the hints in the story "The Lottery"?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In spite of the beautiful setting that Jackson opens with in "The Lottery," it is very quickly clear that there are dark currents in the story.

By the second paragraph, we have boys stuffing their pockets with stones and creating large piles of stones, along with younger girls clinging to the hands of their older siblings.  Rocks and stones are not the stuff of a charming village. In most cultures, they symbolize some sort of violence.  Piles of rocks are used to mark graves in some cultures, as well.  And little girls who live in a safe and happy society have no reason to cling to the hands of their siblings.

In the third paragraph, we see some tension in the villagers.  People are smiling rather than laughing and the jokes are "quiet."  One child who has been running and laughing is called "sharply" by his father, and he joins his family after this reprimand.  There is something about this occasion that suppresses any happiness in the villagers, some tension that is running through the crowd.

In the fourth paragraph, Mr. Summer appears with his black box and three-legged stool.  A black box, rather than a white box or even a red box, is significant.  Black is the color, in western cultures, at least, of death and evil.  Nothing good is going to come from a black box. The stool is reminiscent, at least to me, of the ducking stools used to try witches in New England, a sort of old-fashioned form of water-boarding.  We also learn in this paragraph that the villagers preserve a distance between themselves and Mr. Summers. We wonder why, and we assume that Mr. Summers is going to be doing something that is not good for the villagers.  

All of these hints are on the very first page of the story. We begin to wonder what this lottery is all about, why there are stones standing by, why people are somber and tense, and what the black box is for.  You may be able to find further hints on the second page, too.  By the time Tessie is stoned to death, we are no longer very surprised. 

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