What are some literary elements that Shirley Jackson uses in "The Lottery" and where are they in the story?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shirley Jackson employs several literary devices in her shocking parable of man's efforts to disguise innate desires for violence.


Jackson uses subtle hints of the violence to come as she mixes the suggestions of violence with deceptively pleasant details. For instance, on the "clear and sunny" day of the lottery, the villagers gather in what seems like familiarity and friendliness. The girls stand aside, talking "over their shoulders at the boys" in their usual manner, while the boys break into "boisterous play." The men, who are farmers, stand around as they discuss "planting and rain, tractors and taxes." However, among these details, Jackson inserts a description of Bobby Martin as he stuffs his pockets with stones while other boys gather the "smoothest and roundest stones." Then, three boys make a huge pile of stones in one corner of the town square and "guarded it against the raids of other boys." This description of the pile and the guarding of it by the boys is not unlike the preparation for snowball fights. Thus, readers may be alerted to future violence. Also, in the New Testament of the Bible, there is a famous passage about Mary Magdalene (John 8:3-11), who was going to be stoned for her adultery. This passage is a story familiar to many readers, who would recognize the rocks in a pile as possibly meant for the stoning of a person. 

Mr. Summers, "a round-faced, jovial man," arrives to oversee the lottery, and he tries to get things started. However, "the villagers kept their distance." When Mr. Summers asks, "Some of you fellows want to give me a hand?" there is "a hesitation" before two men step forward. These actions suggest that the lottery is not a function that is joyful or positive in its outcome.


Names are significant. Mr. Graves, whose name symbolizes the tomb, holds up the slips of paper. One of these slips has a black spot that marks a villager for being stoned. The box from which someone pulls these names is black, the color of a funeral drape. Also, Mrs. Delacroix's name has the French word for "cross" as part of her surname (Croix), while de la means "by the" in French. This name, then, suggests crucifixion, another form of punishment used along with stoning in ancient times. So, Mrs. Delacroix's name symbolizes death as well.

The three-legged stool holds the black box. Part of the ritual involves holding the black box on this stool as the paper is stirred thoroughly. The use of the three-legged stool underscores and symbolizes the idea of traditional beliefs. It also ties into farming traditions, as farmers used it when milking cows. Further, this antiquated stool acts as a symbol of historical and religious trios such as the Trinity and the Three Fates.

Stones act as symbols of man's innate savagery and inhumanity to others since they were among the first things employed as weapons. That the cruelty of the villagers is inherent is suggested by the fact that although many of the villagers have forgotten the ritual, and the original black box was lost, they "still remembered to use stones." In another example of the inherency of violence symbolized by stones, Mrs. Delacroix is friendly to Tessie Hutchinson as they stand together, waiting to know whose name has been drawn, but once Tessie's name bears the black mark, the primal savagery in Mrs. Delacroix causes her to reach for the heaviest stone she can carry. Further, in her bloodlust, she urges Mrs. Dunbar to "Come on" and "Hurry up" so that they can stand near the front and throw their stones.

Stones as symbolic of innate savagery and inhumanity to others is further suggested near the end of the story, as the children

had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson [Tessie's son] a few pebbles.

Furthermore, Tessie's plea of "It ain't fair, it isn't right" is entirely ignored, as "they were upon her" in their savagery as they threw the stones.

dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The literary devise known as denouement is used by Jackson to reaffirm her original purpose for writing the story. Denouement is recognized as the climax, turning point, or crisis of the story. This is the part of the story which reveals its innermost complexities. Tessie Hutchinson holds the paper with the black dot on it. She has won "the lottery", however what is going to happen to her is only part of the unraveling of the story. The full intent of the story only reveals itself when little Davey Hutchinson, the son of Tessie, is handed stones by another to participate in the killing of his own mother. Davey is too young to comprend what he is witnessing, and by the actions of another in assisting him to "murder" his own mother only contributes to the perpetuation of this ritual. Davey complies without question or reservation because he is young as does what he is told. This reflects Jackson's commentary on the dangers complaisancy can have on a society. If as a society we accept everything we are told without question, on some level we cease to exist as a "civilization".

Susan Woodward eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most prevalent literary device is irony at the end of the tale.  Throughout the story, the lottery taking place seems to be a sort of annual game in which there is a winner.  Tension mounts when Tessie doesn't want to draw from the box, and the reader begins to wonder what the problem is.  Ironically, the "winner" of the lottery is stoned to death in some sort of sacrficial ritual.  It is significant that the story takes place in the beginning of summer.  In ancient civilizations, ritual sacrifices took place at this time and the blood of the victim was poured onto the ground as an offering.  This was done to insure a good harvest.  The people of the town may be participating in a similar type of ritual given the fact that the box is old and beat up, yet they still use it.  The lottery is so ingrained in their culture that they cannot let go of it.

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another very prominent literary device, which I find more prevalent than irony, is symbolism.  There are symbols everywhere in this story.  I could not possibly name all of them, but a few are the black box, the black dot on the piece of paper Tessie draws, the three-legged stool that the box is placed on, the lottery itself, and the names of Mrs. Delacroix (which literally means "of the cross" in French), Mr. Summers, and Mr. Graves, along with Old Man Warner.  I won't reveal what they each represent because I do not have enough space here LOL, but look at the section in this eNotes group on "Style."