Critical Analysis Paper
Symbolism: Shirley Jackson “The Lottery”
In Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” she used symbolism to display the corrupt nature in tradition, show how people fight change, and view tradition. Each year on June 27 the community comes together to select the winner of the lottery who they will then stone to death. Jackson begins the story in such a realistic way to that this lottery could have taken place anywhere in America but doesn’t give the exact location, showing the reader that the cruel and inhumane actions of the lottery can happen in society today. The whole lottery system is symbolic of the corrupt nature of humans regarding pointless and inhumane traditions. The lottery takes places on a summer day in the towns square where the community gathers for many events. As they gather for this event kids gather stones regularly making piles of only the smoothest and roundest stones. This shows how casual this event is and that this tradition is being passed down from generation to generation. This tradition started before Old Man Warner the oldest man in town was born, but the town refuses to give up this evil annual ritual. The male civilians of the town one by one go to the box to get a little slip of paper out of the black box and whoever gets the paper with the dot on it someone in their family will be stoned. This year the winner is Tessie Hutchinson. Before she gets stoned she screams “It isn't fair, it isn’t right"(75). None of the villagers seems to care enough to stop this ruthless action from taking place. Even Tessie’s best friend Mrs. Delacroix didn’t try to stop the action in fact she picked up the first stone and threw it at her. Tessie’s own son Little Davy threw stones at her. This shows the loyalty the villagers have to this extreme tradition. The lottery also symbolizes a tradition that could easily be changed if the new generation stood up and said something but no one’s willing to because this has been going on for so long. Old Man Warner is a prime example of someone who is fighting change because this has never affected him personally. He says "Listening to the young folks, nothings good enough for them"(30). Warner feels like they should keep this ruthless tradition instead of changing or even modifying it because the new generation is always changing traditions to fit into today’s society. Jackson said “The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago” (5) and “Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones” (70). The unfortunate thing is that the villagers are refusing to change the tradition despite the fact that many parts of the lottery have changed and faded away over the years. The villagers are so loyal to this tradition that they don’t realize the lottery has already changed. For example the box they use to conduct the lottery has been changed and they have now started using paper instead of wood to draw from the box. The Lottery is such a big part of the village’s tradition and culture that they have an adage that goes along with the ritual. “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (30). That means the lottery is helping the village have plenty. The village feels if they sacrifice someone from the village that will bring them a good harvest season. The other towns nearby the village have already given up this harsh ritual but Old Man Warner isn’t fond of the idea. Old Man Warner feels that if they get rid of the tradition scarcity would come about. He say’s “the village would go back to chickweed and acorns” (30). Which doesn’t make any sense because how could stoning one person stop scarcity in a community? It can't and this shows just how loyal yet narrow minded Old Man Warner is when it comes to tradition and change. The black box is also symbolic in “The Lottery” it represents life and death in the village. Simply because one can pick a piece of paper out of the box with a dot on it and die or you can pick a blank piece out of the box which gives you life. The color of the box foreshadows that there will be death in the community whenever the box is out and on the three legged stool. The black box has no purpose except during these two hours every June 27 and is passed around until it’s time for the lottery each year. "It had spent one year in Mr. Graves's barn and another year underfoot in the post office and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there”(5) In conclusion Shirley Jackson used symbolism in her short story "The Lottery" to show that some traditions need to be changed for a better society. Jackson didn't state the location or the time period to show the reader that something as extreme as the lottery could take place at any given time and anywhere around the world. This opens up the readers eyes to understand that these types of things do happen in everyday society and that the new generations must modify these traditions in order to have a better community. It also makes the reader realize that there are many rituals retained today even though their purpose is now nonexistent.