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Symbols in 'The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 924 words Published: 28th Jul 2021

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“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is a story of an unusual town caught in a trap of always following tradition, even when it is not in their best interest. Jackson uses symbols throughout the story that relate to the overall theme. This helps the reader clearly understand her main message. Jackson uses setting, tone and symbols to convey a theme to her audience. By doing so she creates significant connections to the theme using old man Warner and the black box as examples.

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The setting and tone in “The Lottery” are very important aspects that give the reader a sense of where they are and an overall feeling of what the story should be like. At the start, Jackson is very specific in describing the setting of her story. She says “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full summer day” (250). Imagining this puts the reader in a place that seems very welcoming. It is the start of summer and everything is getting ready for a new beginning. This is very misleading because Jackson gives her audience the sense that this is a normal town that goes about their day to day lives just as any other town would. But this is not the case when it is later revealed that it is an end rather than a new beginning because the winner of the lottery is stoned to death. The tone of the story quickly changes once the reader realizes what the point of the lottery really is. There is something very secretive and bizarre about this town that leaves the reader with many questions about why it is the way it is, and how it got to be like this. Old man Warner relates to this as he is the oldest man in town. He symbolizes the tradition in this unusual ritual the villagers partake in.

Old man Warner plays a key role in Jackson’s story “The Lottery”, as he is one of the main symbols. Mr. Warner is the oldest man in town and has participated in seventy-seven lotteries. He represents the tradition of the lottery in his town. The younger generations in town tell him that other places have stopped holding lotteries. He thinks they are a “Pack of crazy fools” (254) for wanting to stop the lottery. He believes by retiring the tradition that “They’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves” (254). According to Mr. Warner, the lottery is the only thing keeping society stable. As a man of superstition he thinks that a human sacrifice is the only logical answer for insuring that their crops are good, seen in the line “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (254). Mr. Warner accepts the way things are because this is the way they have always been. Changing tradition would be disastrous in his eyes. The other main symbol in “The Lottery” is the black box. Unlike old man Warner, the black box represents the absence of tradition. This is because the box itself has not been passed down, rather it has only been the ideas and rituals that were passed through generations. Only pieces of the original box remain. In the beginning of the lottery the villagers used wood chips instead of paper. Over the years the small details of the lottery have been lost and all that remains is the true intention of it. The villagers are blindly following a ritual that has lost most of the tradition, and only holding lotteries simply because there has always been one.

The theme in this short story is that blindly following tradition can be very dangerous. This is shown to the reader through the bizarre ritual of murdering innocent people just because tradition says so. The town has become so immersed in this tradition that they fail to see the damage it is creating in their society. Old man Warner is a perfect example of this because in his eyes there is nothing wrong with the tradition of the lottery. He is so committed to the tradition that he believes the village will return to a much more primitive time if they stop holding lotteries. This is very ironic because the tradition they are following has been passed down through generations, the idea of human sacrifice for success in their crops is a very primitive way of thinking. Mr. Warner does not question this tradition and would easily kill someone simply because the tradition of the lottery is all the justification he needs. The black box can also be related to this because it is seen to hold very traditional values, but in reality it is the opposite. The box is falling apart from years of use and is only made from a piece of the original black box. The villagers base their loyalty with the box on nothing more than stories that it is made from pieces of the old one. This goes to show that the villagers are blindly following tradition just because it has always been done this way.

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Throughout the story the reader is able to clearly see how Jackson uses setting, tone, and symbols to create a very entertaining story. The setting and tone in “The Lottery” is very different than most. She tricks the reader into thinking that the town and village people she describes are normal, when in reality this is not true. The reader later finds out about the unusual ritual this town practices and the entire tone of the story changes. There are two main symbols in this story, one being old man Warner, and the second being the black box. Both of these symbols give the reader a sense of tradition, with Mr. Warner not wanting to stop the lottery, and with the black box being nothing more than a symbol. Jackson leaves her audience with a great theme that can be applied to any society and any time period.


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