What are three examples of figurative language in "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson?

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In "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, three examples of figurative language include similes, personification, and metaphors. A simile is found in Mrs. Hutchinson's farewell tap, which is likened to a goodbye. Personification is used when the writer describes 'soft laughter running through the crowd' and a 'breathless pause', attributing human actions to non-human entities. Lastly, the black box serves as a metaphor, symbolizing the long-standing tradition of the lottery.

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Figurative language is the use of words to express something more than a literal meaning. Shirley Jackson uses figurative language at several points in "The Lottery" to enrich the narrative and illustrate her setting more vividly.


The eNotes Guide to Literary Terms defines a simile as

[A] figure of speech that makes a comparison of two unlike things with the help of comparative words such as like or as.

The phrases "fly like a bird" and "as red as a rose" are both similes.

As the other Educators have noted, there is only one simile in "The Lottery," which comes before the official lottery proceedings begin. Mrs. Hutchinson has been speaking to her friend and leaves her to go stand with her husband.

She tapped Mrs. Delacroix on the arm as a farewell and began to make her way through the crowd.

The tap on the arm stands in here for a more obvious form of farewell, like saying "goodbye." While in a literal sense, a tap on the arm is just a tap on the arm, in a figurative sense, Mrs. Hutchinson's gesture is meant to express an end to her conversation with Mrs. Delacroix and an indication that she is leaving.


The eNotes Guide to Literary Terms defines personification as

[A] form of figurative language that assigns human qualities or characteristics to something that is nonhuman (such as animals, inanimate objects, or ideas).

Expressions like "the wind howled" and "the brook sang" are both examples of personification.

Personification is used in a few places in "The Lottery," often to describe the mood of the assembled people. When Mrs. Hutchinson joins her husband, Jackson writes that

soft laughter ran through the crowd.

The laughter "runs" just like Mrs. Hutchinson walks, as if it is another person in the crowd.

After the lots have been drawn, everybody falls silent for a moment, in what Jackson calls

a breathless pause.

By describing the pause itself as "breathless", Jackson conveys the anxiety of the people in the crowd, who all hesitate before checking the lots they have drawn.


The eNotes Guide to Literary Terms defines a metaphor as

[An] implied analogy or unstated comparison which imaginatively identifies one thing with another.

"The Lottery" contains many metaphors, such as the following:

[the] tradition...represented by the black box.

The black box from which the lots are drawn is the oldest piece of "paraphernalia" pertaining to the annual ritual of the lottery, and it consequently stands for continuity. It is a physical reminder of the origins of the lottery, which date back to the founding of the village. The box itself is supposedly made up of pieces of the original box, which makes it a potent symbol of how long the villagers have been performing this ritual.

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Figurative language enhances the text of any narrative, and it helps to highlight significant themes and meanings of the author in "The Lottery."


The word metaphor is often defined as 

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

The lottery may be considered a metaphor for the use of the of traditional ritual as a disguise for the innate desire for violence.

While some of the people mention that there are communities that have done away with their lotteries and some object to this, there are those who say nothing or they talk of being "a good sport." Yet, Mrs. Dunbar has gathered "the smoothest and roundest stones" by the time the name from the black box is revealed.  Then, when the time comes for the stoning of the victim, friendship and neighborliness are quickly discarded in the rush to carry stones in both hands like Mrs. Dunbar, or to select a stone so large that both hands must be used to pick it up as does Mrs. Delacroix in her apparent eagerness to do violence. Eager to do violence, too, is Old Man Warner who urges, "Come on, come on, everyone."


Personification is used early in the narrative. In the second paragraph, the children have just begun their summer vacations, and "the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them." (The sensation of "feeling of liberty" is given the quality of a person as it "sat.")


As previously mentioned, the only simile (and it should be noted that this is not the strongest example of a simile) is that of Mrs. Hutchinson's tapping Mrs. Delacroix on the arm as a "farewell" (tapping is compared to a farewell using the word as).

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Old Man Warner metaphorically represents blind tradition and the flawed nature of mankind. Throughout the short story, Old Man Warner expresses his displeasure with the other villages that have canceled the traditional lottery selection. He refers to the younger generation as a "pack of crazy fools" because they dismiss traditional practices. Despite the unfounded nature of the lottery, Old Man Warner refuses to eliminate the ceremony and encourages the villagers to pick up stones to hurl at Tessie Hutchinson at the end of the story.

Personification is a literary device where inanimate objects, ideas, or animals are given human attributes. Shirley Jackson utilizes personification by writing, "the breeze caught them and lifted them off" (6).

A simile is a comparison between two things, which are connected using the words "like" or "as." Jackson utilizes a simile by writing, "She tapped Mrs. Delacroix on the arm as a farewell and began to make her way through the crowd" (2).

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Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Lottery," contains many different examples of figurative language.

Metaphor: A metaphor is a comparison between a person, place, thing, or idea to other person, place, thing, or idea which typically is not used.

While the metaphors are not readily found within a line, they still exist. For example, the black box is a metaphor for death and tradition. The town gathers, year after year, to take part in the lottery. Likewise, the three-legged stool and the black dot also represent tradition. Again, the color black is seen (the black dot). Like the black box, the black dot represents death. Out of the black box the black dot is drawn, with the drawing of the black dot, the "winner" is "awarded" death.

Simile: A simile is similar to a metaphor, but it uses either "like" or "as" to create the comparison.

Only one simile is found in the text. As Tessie is leaving Mrs. Delacroix, she taps her "as a farewell." The tap is compared to a parting of ways. Ironically, this is a true farewell. Tessie is the "winner" and will no longer see Mrs. Delacroix after this day.

Personification: Personification is the giving of human characteristics and qualities to nonliving and/or nonhuman things.

Personification can be found in the line where Mr. Graves drops the slips of paper onto the ground. The breeze then "caught them and lifted them off." A breeze cannot (in reality) "catch" anything.  Therefore, the breeze is personified, given it is given the human ability of catching something and lifting it up.

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