The Lottery and Religion

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Matthew Smith

Symbolism in a story is used to express a meaning that goes beyond the apparent literal significance, and suggests a more complex meaning, or a range of meanings. It is a tool that can be used to enhance and stress the theme of a story. Authors use this tool as a way to encompass as much content as possible into a compact story. None have done so better than Shirley Jackson in her most famous work, which received a widespread, scathing rebuke when first released in the magazine, “The New Yorker,” in 1948. In her short story, “The Lottery,” Jackson uses symbolism in the form of objects, character names, and the setting of the story, to convey to the reader, her negative attitude and beliefs about Christianity. Indeed, the symbolic meanings of many of the people and things placed throughout the narrative depict the author’s own feelings on religion, surely shaped by her New England upbringing. For instance, consider the black box from which the pieces of paper are drawn. Jackson uses the box as a representation of the bible. Christians pass judgment on others based on the things that they take from the bible. Likewise, the village inhabitants pass judgment on Mrs. Hutchinson based on what is literally taken from the box. Also, just as the bible has reluctantly changed throughout the passage of time, retaining pieces of its former self, the black box has been altered as well, rebuilt using the remnants of its predecessors. Although the box has been altered, it is still used in the lottery, just as the bible is used in churches even after its many alterations. The ragged, dilapidated state of the box represents Jackson’s view that the bible and its teachings are outdated. This, in addition to the villagers reluctance to replace the box with a newer version, shows the authors belief that even though Christianity is not the same religion as it once was, Christians still remain adamant about its infallibility. Also, the box, being a...
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