“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is about Symbolism
"The Lottery," a short story written by Shirley Jackson, is a tale about an inhumane
and horrific tradition that a community celebrates every year between 10 a.m. and noon
on June 27, a sunny day, in a New England village (“Cummings Study Guide”). Not only
is this story about tradition but it also hides the meaning of symbolism as well. The
setting takes place in a small village consisting of about three hundred people. On June
twenty-seventh of every year, the members of this traditional community hold a village
wide lottery in which everyone is expected to participate. A black box holds hundreds of
pieces of paper that each member of the community must choose from. There is one
piece of paper that has a marking of a dot on it. The paper with this marking means an
unfair fate for the person who has picked it. This fate is ultimately a casual murder of
being stoned to death that the whole town is guilty of.
In this lottery, the winner sacrifices his or her own life for the sake of the tradition.
Through the actions and contrast of settings, Shirley Jackson shows the inhumanity of
the traditional lottery and points out the cruelty of people and the relationship between
the people. It becomes apparent this community is very weak-minded. The people in
this community have no respect for the ritual itself, they just want to hurry up and find
out who won, and get to the stoning. In response to questions about the “meaning” of Long 2
the story, Shirley Jackson wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle (July 22, 1948):
“Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by
setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the
story`s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general
inhumanity in their own lives.” (“Private Demons. The Life of Shirley Jackson”).
The symbols of “The Lottery” become a bit clearer when you consider and
understand that the author was a woman in 1948 America (Modern Short Stories).
This made her someone who had a lot of reason to find the longstanding traditions to
be just as vile as those traditions in "The Lottery". Whether this was segregation, the
lack of free voting rights or any of the many other traditions which still exist primarily
because they have always existed. These are traditions which are often difficult for
those who are not hurt by them to see clearly and that stories like “The Lottery” help to
illuminate. In addition, a woman being the one chosen by the lottery is important. This is
in some way the author putting herself symbolically into the place of the victim. Just as
important, it shows the tradition has subverted the natural instinct men have to protect
women. It also made the victim of the lottery someone who was hurt by tradition in the
nonfictional world as well. slide 6 of 6
"The Lottery” is filled with symbols. This story is in many ways
a parable more than a traditional story. A society so mired in its traditions that it has lost
the ability to even look at the reasons for those traditions, but instead follows them
blindly even when they hurt its citizens. Since this is a danger every society faces “The
Lottery” remains relevant in part because the symbols in the story are never fully
explained ("The Lottery: Symbolic Tour").
The Lottery is just another day to the people of this community. The people pile the
stones high in the corner and gather on-time before the drawing. The women are
gossiping and the children are playing with the stones that are piled in the corner,
seeming oblivious to the horror that they agree with yet you can tell they are almost
trying to hide their nervousness. The stones are a symbol for tradition. Rocks are...
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