The Lottery Analysis
by Shirley Jackson

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Analysis

Narration, Tone, and Style

Shirley Jackson's “The Lottery” is told from an objective, third-person point of view. The narrator is positioned as an external observer, who is not involved in the proceedings of the lottery. It reveals very little about the thoughts or feelings of the characters. The only way to know the characters’ thoughts is through the descriptions of their behavior or the dialogue tags. This lack of access to thoughts and feelings enhances the contrast between the violence of the characters' actions and their apparent civility. Since readers do not know what they are thinking, the story takes on a detached, apathetic tone. Readers are not given the sense that anyone cares about Tessie’s death, increasing the disparity between reader reaction and character reaction.

The detached tone of the story also speaks to the desensitization of the townspeople to violence. The lottery is a yearly tradition. Based on the participation of the children, this is no one’s first lottery. Every person in attendance, except for the reader, knows what to expect from the ceremony. Their nervousness provides a tense undercurrent to the initial drawing by the heads of each household. However, after the Hutchinsons are chosen, the mood shifts to one of solemn resignation—for everyone except for Tessie. Tessie’s outbursts about the unfairness of the selection process provide a stark contrast to everyone else’s quiet relief. Even the rest of the Hutchinson family seems resigned to the process. The detached and objective tone of the rest of the story provides a chilling backdrop to the cries of a condemned woman.

Symbols

The Lottery

The titular lottery in the short story represents blind adherence to tradition. The townspeople do not know when or why it started, but they continue to practice it out of fear. For them, the lottery is a cornerstone of their society. To give it up would irrevocably change their culture. The lottery is so ingrained in the small town that they don’t hesitate to kill whomever is selected. For the townspeople, this is a normal, accepted fact of life. There is no guilt or hesitation exhibited by anyone other than Tessie as she is stoned to death. They have all done this before, and they will likely all do it again. Old Man Warner claims that “there has always been a lottery.” In his eyes, that is justification enough to continue the practice in perpetuity. For the townspeople, there has always been a lottery, so they do not know how to envision a world where it does not exist. Even though the lottery actively harms people, Jackson's story seems to suggest that it is human nature to prefer familiarity over change.

The Black Box

The black box has two symbolic purposes. The first is its symbolic importance to the people of the town. For them, the box serves as a symbol of tradition and of the lottery itself. They believe that it contains wood shards from the original box used by their ancestors. The box is their physical link to the historical context that produced the lottery. For readers, the box is symbolic in a different way. It represents the inconsistency of the townspeople’s adherence to tradition. Though they refuse to make a new box, they also openly admit that it is not the original. When Joe Summers proposes using slips of paper instead of wood chips, the town agrees. The box comes to represent the compromises that the townspeople have already made with regards to tradition.

How the box is stored also offers a glimpse at the increasingly marginalized place the box—and the lottery itself—occupies in the public consciousness. The box is stored haphazardly in the post office, the grocery store, or in Mr. Summers 's office. It is ignored at best and considered actively inconvenient at worst. It is not treated with any degree of reverence outside of the lottery proceedings. On a more symbolic level, the box has no designated place in society. Instead, it gets stored wherever there is...

(The entire section is 1,419 words.)