Lottery By Shirley Jackson

While the setting of Shirley Jacksons, The Lottery, takes place on a clear,
sunny, June day, it does not take long for the skies to turn gray as she
introduces the readers to the black box. The black box is the central symbol of
the short story. It suggest both death and necessity of change due to a
combination of the passage of time and population expansion. The reference to
the black box as a symbol of death can be seen in many instances throughout
the story. For example, when the box is first introduced, “the villagers kept
their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool ( which the box
was placed on).” People are afraid and the distance they kept was not due to
their fear of the box, but of what the box stood for . . . death. This point is
further illustrated through the manner in which the box was stored. “The rest
of the year, the box was put away, sometimes one place, sometimes another; it
had spent one year in Mr. Graves barn and another year underfoot in the post
office, and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left
there.” Death is not something that people deal with everyday. Human beings
deal with death very similar to the way that the towns people stored the black
box. People place their experiences with death in different rooms and shelves of
their hearts. The black box also symbolizes the need for a new tradition and the
reluctance of the townspeople to accept change. The black box is a symbol of the
lottery itself. The physical appearance of the box suggest that it was not only
the black box that needed to be replaced but the tradition of the lottery.


“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.” As the physical appearance of the black box
deteriorated so did the appropriateness of the tradition. Takash 2 Mr. Adams
revealed in his conversation with Old Man Warner that many of the towns
surrounding them had already ceased the lottery tradition and many more were in
the process of discussing it, thus further proving that the lottery has lost its
significance. In reply to Mr. Adams remarks, Old Man Warner says, “Theres
always been a lottery .” and “Nothing but trouble in that, pack of young
fools.” Old Man Warners response to Mr. Adams exemplifies the unwillingness
of the townspeople to change the tradition and the townspeoples failure to
accept the need for change. The dark clouds that came into view when the box was
first introduced become a full fledged storm at the conclusion of the story. The
black box became the ultimate symbol of death as it is the very vechile that
delivers the unfortunate winners prize which is death by stoning. The storm
of immoral and unethical actions is further propelled by the momentum that came
from the townspeoples extreme degree of self interest. The terrible tradition
was carried out once again. Instead of considering the effect that the tradition
had on their fellow man they were grateful that the black box had blessed them
with their own lives. As far as they were concerned the sky was blue and the sun
was still shining.

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Lottery By Shirley Jackson

In many stories, settings are constructed to help build the mood and to
foreshadow of things to come. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is a
story in which the setting sets up the reader to think of positive outcomes.


However, this description of the setting foreshadows exactly the opposite of
what is to come. In addition, the theme that we learn of at the end leads us to
think of where the sanity of some human beings lies. The story begins with the
establishment of the setting. To begin, Shirley Jackson tells the reader what
time of day and what time of year the story takes place. This is important to
get the reader to focus on what a typical day it is in this small town. The time
of day is set in the morning and the time of year is early summer. She also
describes that school has just recently let out for summer break, letting the
reader infer that the time of year is early summer. Shirley Jackson also seems
to stress on the beauty of the day and the brilliance of nature. This provides
the positive outlook and lets the reader relax into what seems to be a
comfortable setting for the story. In addition, the description of people and
their actions are very typical and not anomalous. Children play happily, women
gossip, and men casually talk about farming. Everyone is coming together for
what seems to be enjoyable, festive, even celebratory occasion. However, the
pleasant description of the setting creates a façade within the story. The
setting covers the very ritualistic and brutally violent traditions such as the
stoning of Mrs. Hutchinson, who dared to defy tradition. It is very apparent
that tradition is very coveted in this small, simple town. This can be proven by
the ancient, black box used for the lottery and the significance of farming for
the community. Farming is also the only known way of life because of tradition.

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The men in “The Lottery” are “speaking of planting and rain, tractors and
taxes”. This is because the ritual performed in the story is supposed to have
an effect on the harvest. “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” used to be a
saying heard in that town. The abundance of their harvest supposedly depended
upon their performing the ritual of the lottery. Although it is implied that the
abundance of their harvest depends wholly on cruel act of stoning a human being
to death, there is evidence that not all in the community agree with the ritual.


Children are an important focus in “The Lottery”. Jackson makes it easy for
us to imagine their “boisterous play” and the children are described in
depth. I think these children symbolize perceived states of happiness in the
story. I also believe they are vital necessities in the story because they are
taught and expected to carry the traditions. For instance, “someone gave
little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles” so that he will then be able to
participate in the stoning of his own mother. In the story, many parts of the
ritual had been changed or even long forgotten by most of the people. This fact
in itself, along with a few other clues, tells me that not everyone agrees with
it. One character says, “seems like theres no time at all between lotteries
anymore”. This means that the lottery is much too frequent or should not even
be done at all. I believe that many disagree with the practice of the ritual, I
also think that the individual feels helpless in putting a stop to it. Mrs.


Adams mentions to Old Man Warner, “that over in the north village theyre
talking of giving up the lottery” and that “Some places have already quit
the lotteries”. He replies “Pack of crazy fools” and says, “Theres
always been a lottery”. Although she does not say it in so many words, I find
it obvious that she feels that the ritual should be put to an end. This in
combination with the fact that many of the townspeople do not even remember the
reasons behind the ritual has led me to the conclusion that they only continue
the process for “traditions sake”. It just goes to show that humans are
creatures of habit and that sometimes we continue to participate in (or
tolerate) harmful practices. This is simply because as individuals we feel
powerless and unable to stand up against behaviors that have always been
accepted. The setting has set us up for a shocking and deadly end. What seemed
like a wonderful, joy-filled day ended with an unfortunate, tragic death. This
is what makes this story so disturbing and horrifying but a wonderful work of
literature art.

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