What is the significance of the names Graves and Summers in "The Lottery"?

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The names Graves and Summers are appropriate for the men who organize the lottery. The Lottery takes place in June, so Summers is a good name for one of the organizers. The name Graves hints at death, which is what happens to the participants. The two surnames together can be interpreted as "summer's grave."

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Graves is a very appropriate name for the man who helps to organize the lottery, as the "winner" will end up going to their grave. Mr. Graves's surname, a surname with connotations of death, indicates that this is no ordinary lottery with no ordinary "prize." The name Summers gives us...

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a further clue as to what kind of event this is. The denizens of this small New England town are engaged in a pagan summer ritual, an act of human sacrifice designed to ensure a bountiful harvest.

One could argue, then, that the surnames of Graves and Summers each indicate something about the ritual. The Summers name tells us what time of year the ritual takes place, giving us an inkling into the sunny, carnival-like atmosphere that descends upon the town in late June. Whereas the name of Graves hints darkly at the sinister purpose of this annual event.

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Author Shirley Jackson obviously chose many of the names of her characters for symbolic purposes. Mr. Graves, one of the officials of the lottery, has the responsibility of maintaining the black box in which the names of the villagers are drawn. The "winning" name will tragically signify which person will be stoned--and sent to their grave. His wife, Mrs. Graves, is right up front when the stones begin to fly. The richest man in town, Joe Summers is the head of the all-important lottery, which takes place on June 27th--in the early summer, hence his own name. Other names serve symbolic purposes:

  • Tessie Hutchinson is based on the Puritan woman Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), who was tried as a heretic and banished (but not stoned or burned) from Massachusetts colony for her religious beliefs.
  • Dickie Delacroix's name is French for "of the cross."
  • Old Man Warner constantly "warns" the villagers of the importance of the lottery--making him a "warner."
  • The Adams' are the first family to draw from the box--symbolic of the first man created by God.
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In "The Lottery," the lottery is run by two men named Summers and Graves. If Shirley Jackson chose those names for a reason, what might they represent or symbolize?

The lottery is an annual tradition. It is a communal event that occurs every year on June 27th. Mr. Summers is one of the two men who administer the lottery. It is perhaps significant that his name is Summers and the ritual sacrifice occurs in the summer. His name is therefore linked to the annual event. His name represents a repeating cycle and a repeating tradition which, to some people like Old Man Warner, is as natural as the summer season itself. 

Mr. Graves' name symbolizes death and/or a grave, a place where the dead are buried. The word "grave" can also be used as an adjective and it can mean to be serious, solemn, and threatening. This describes the way the townspeople feel about this barbaric ritual.

Mr. Graves is the postmaster, a civic job. It is also his civic duty to swear Mr. Summers in as the official of the lottery. The man named Graves literally delivers (like the mail) the man who will announce the sacrifice. 

When it is Mr. Graves' turn to pick from the box, Jackson emphasizes the symbolism of his name to show how solemn and dark this ritual is: 

"We're next," Mrs. Graves said. She watched while Mr. Graves came around from the side of the box, greeted Mr. Summers gravely, and selected a slip of paper from the box. 

Each year, the whole town "greets summer gravely" because the lottery occurs in the summer. It is something they dread. Thus, when the lottery occurs, each person greets Mr. Summers gravely because he runs the lottery. 

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