In Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" symbols are used to enhance and stress the theme of the story. A symbol is a person, object, action, place, or event that in addition to its literal meaning, suggests a more complex meaning or range of meanings. (Kirszner & Mendell 330) The theme of the story is how coldness and lack of compassion can be exhibited in people in situations regarding tradition and values. That people will do incredibly evil and cruel things just for the sake of keeping a routine. Three of the main symbols that Shirley uses in the story is the setting, black box, and the actual characters names. They all tie together to form an intriguing story that clearly shows the terrible potential if society forgets the basis of tradition. The story also shows many similarities between the culture of the village, and the culture of Nazi Germany. How blind obedience to superiors can cause considerable damage to not only a community, but the entire world. Symbolism plays a large role in "The Lottery" to set the theme of the story and make the reader question traditions.
One of the main symbols of the story is the setting. It takes place in a normal small town on a nice summer day. "The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full summer day; the flowers were blooming profusely and the grass was richly green." (Jackson 347).This tricks the reader into a disturbingly unaware state,
and to believe the lottery is something wonderful like it is today. The small town atmosphere and beautiful summer day symbolize the idealistic picture most Americans have of what is right and good about this country. This is reinforced by the fact that the lottery is held in the same place as many of the town's celebrations such as the square-dances, teenage club, and the Halloween program, and clearly shows how easy it is for people to clear their conscience of such horrible actions by being able to have such joyous occasions in the same place. The attitude and actions of the characters slightly allude to the reader that something is amiss, but causes little cause for concern or suspicion. The children were playing and building rock piles. The men were talking about rain, taxes, and tractors while the women gossiped. But there was little laughter between the adults, and they stayed completely away from the rock piles. The setting of the town and the actions of the characters symbolize what many believe to be "right" in America.
The second main symbol in "The Lottery" is the black box. The black box is where the townspeople drew strips of paper from to determine who is the "winner". It was very old and even older than the oldest member of the town.
"The black box grew shabbier each year; by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained." (Jackson 348) The box at first symbolizes mystery, but by the end of the story it symbolizes doom and death since one of the townspeople's fates lies in an inanimate object. It is also symbolic of our dislike of change since it is so old and worn out. "There was a story that the present black box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the
one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here." (Jackson 348) This makes it a good example of the original theme of the story of how people will do nearly anything to keep traditions even if they don't understand why. Merriam-Webster's dictionary even has "thoroughly sinister and evil" as one of the definitions for the word black. (427) Black as a color historically denotes death and the box revolves around all the evil that has been done and will be done. The townspeople avoid replacing the box and distance themselves from the responsibility as much as possible. They respond to the black box in awe and in fear as if it were some...