“The Lottery,” written by Shirley Jackson, is a short story about a strange annual ritual that takes place in a small village in New England. At the beginning of the story the day is described as “clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.” This pleasant sensory description leads one to believe that this will be a day of happiness. Every year on June 27th all the villagers gather around in the town square for the annual ritual of the lottery, which has been taking place for over seventy years. When reading this story, the purpose of the lottery is unclear until near the very end. The lottery is a ritual that was put in place to choose a human sacrifice to make the crops plentiful.. “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (Jackson 224). This story makes use of many different literary elements including irony, symbolism, and various themes. Irony in this story starts with the title. “The Lottery presents a prototypical example of the surprise ending” (Du Bose, Thomas). It suggests that the winner of the lottery will receive some sort of reward when, in fact. the winner’s reward is being stoned to death. The true intention of the lottery is not revealed in the beginning. The villagers prepared for the ritual. Children gathered stones. The men began to gather around, and the women soon joined them. Before the lottery was declared open, “there was a great deal of fussing to be done” (Jackson 222), which leads one to believe that the villagers were excited and ready for the ceremony to begin. However, once the lottery begins, the mood becomes somber and the story indicates that the winner of the lottery is really no winner at all. Once the winner was known the villagers remembered the stones. “It isn’t fair, it isn’t fair, Mrs. Hutchinson screamed and then they were upon her” (Jackson 227). Symbolism is shown throughout this story. “The characters seem so wholesome, so stereotypically small-town American, that it is easy for the reader to overlook the clues that Jackson provides” (Du Bose, Thomas). Symbolism is used in naming the characters. For example, the names of Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves indicate that someone will go to his grave in the summer. Another use of symbolism in the story is the black box. The black box symbolizes death. The black box has been used for as long as the townspeople can remember. It holds the fate of one person from the village. When the black box is brought into town, no one wants to go near it. “The villagers kept their distance” (Jackson 221) because they all feared what it represented. The stones are another form of symbolism. To the boys who gathered them up in piles, as if it were a game, the stones represent their youthful ignorance of what was really going on. To Mrs. Delacroix who picked up the heaviest one she could find, the stone represents her relief that she was not the one chosen to be stoned. Three themes that are evident throughout this story are tradition, sexism, and death. The lottery ritual has been going on ever since the people of the town could remember. “There’s always been a lottery” (Jackson 224). “The lottery represented a grave experience, and all who participated understood the profound meaning of the tradition” (Griffin, Amy A). Some of the villagers think that this tradition is a good one that will bring full and bountiful crops. Others villagers actually wanted to quit the lottery. A main tradition that was kept the same was the black box. Although the black box used in the lottery had been around since before Old Man Warner, no one would even entertain the idea of getting a new one. “But no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box” (Jackson 221). The major tradition that all the townspeople knew and did not forget was the use of the stones. “They still remembered to use the stones” (Jackson 227). These stones were needed to throw at the person who drew the paper with the black spot. Another theme presented in this story is sexism. When reading the story one notices that the women do not initially draw. Only men draw unless there is something wrong with the man of the house and there is not a son old enough to draw. “Wife draws for her husband,” Mr. Summers said. “Don’t you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?” (Jackson 223). After the initial drawing the women get to participate in the drawing to see who will be stoned to death. Although the first drawing seems like something anyone could do, women are not seen as important enough to do it. Throughout the story, one can observe that the men played a bigger role in their society compared to that of the women. Though the story does not become gruesome until the end, death is the obvious theme. Throughout the story people are performing strange acts such as gathering stones and avoiding the black box. They make comments about how they wish they could hurry and get this ritual done. It all comes down to people actually being afraid of the ritual itself. The lottery winner’s prize is getting stoned to death. It is human nature to fear change. People are scared that the change could be worse than the current situation. While many people in the lottery wanted to keep the tradition, there were a few who were ready for change. In "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, there are a number of literary elements used to create a story that is nearly impossible to forget. It is filled with themes, symbolism, irony and a clear understanding of how to tell a story. “The Lottery” also shows a willingness to embrace controversy. Everyday, due to pure bad luck or the need for a scapegoat, injustices and discriminations take place. Everyday a Tessie Hutchinson is stoned. “Jackson's story illustrates that society's tendency toward violence and its tendency to hold onto tradition, even meaningless, base tradition, reveal our need for both ritual and belonging” (Griffin, Amy A).
Du Bose, Thomas. “The Lottery”
Masterplots, Fourth Edition; November 2010, p1-3
Griffin, Amy A. “Jackson’s The Lottery”
Explicator; Fall99, Vol. 58 Issue 1, p44, 3p
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery” [220-227]
Perrines’s Story & Structure