What is the significance of the fact that the original box has been lost and many parts of the ritual have been forgotten in "The Lottery"?
"The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born."
Jackson's inclusion of the detail concerning the loss of the original accoutrements of the lottery reinforces the idea of a town and society clinging to an out-dated custom. In one way, the detail provided by Jackson shows the longevity of the custom, but the fact that the people have done away with some of the customary proceedings suggests that the lottery's thrall over the people may be fading.
Even the story that the current black box had been made out of the pieces of the original one hints at how the town stubbornly clings to the tradition of the lottery. Many clearly fear and loathe what the lottery represents by their avoidance of the stool and box in the square, but the custom and tradition are still too great to overcome to dismiss the lottery altogether.
"The Lottery" seems to bear a resemblance to Franz Kafka's "In the Penal Colony." The English translation of Kafka's long story was published in 1948, the same year that Shirley Jackson's story was published in theNew Yorker. The apparatus and the ritual being used in the penal colony are also getting obsolete, but the officer in charge insists on observing protocol as far as possible, even going so far as to sacrifice himself. The prisoner who is to be tortured seems to be as respectful of the colony's traditions as those who are inflicting the horrible punishment. It seems likely that Shirley Jackson was familiar with Kafka's story and influenced by his matter-of-fact presentation of a nightmare situation. Kafka's story was originally published in German in 1919, so Shirley Jackson might have read it earlier than 1948 in German or some other European language.