The Symbolism In The Lottery English Literature Essay

Modified: 1st Jan 2015
Wordcount: 1317 words

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Shirley Jacksons, The Lottery , clearly expresses her feelings concerning traditional rituals through her story. It opens the eyes of readers to properly classify and question some of today s traditions as cruel, and allows room to foretell the outcome of these unusual traditions. The Lottery is a short story that records the annual sacrifice ceremony of a fictional small town. It is a detailed narrative of the selection of the person to be sacrificed, a process known to the townspeople as the lottery . This selection is extremely rich in symbolism. Shirley Jackson uses symbolism to make readers aware of the pointless nature of humanity regarding tradition and violence. There are three main types of symbolism in this piece: characters names, objects, and numbers.

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The names of the characters play a large role in the story. Some such as Delacroix, are rather obviously religious natures. Others, such as Adams, are a bit more obscure. The Delacroix family has a name that literally means of the cross. The principal Delacroix character, Mrs. Delacroix, appears several times throughout the short story. She functions as a friend to Tessie Hutchinson, the woman ultimately selected for the sacrifice, but turns on her at the end along with the rest of the townspeople. Delacroix is not angry with Hutchinson, but helps kill her because of the tradition. The symbolism here is apparent. The church, usually seen as a positive influence, can sometimes turn on a person in the name of ritual and tradition.

Mr. Adams, another character, is the first to draw from the lottery box. His name, Adams, coupled with the fact that he is the first man to draw from the lottery box, indicates that he is biblically representative of humanity. Like the other characters, he is supposed to stand for the average person. This illustrates that the story is universally applicable to everyone.

Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves also have symbolic names. Mr. Summers, the owner of a coal business, runs all the civic activities, including the lottery. His name is a representative of the lottery itself, which occurs every summer. Jackson makes certain readers know the lottery is an annual tradition. Old Man Warner quotes an old saying, Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon (232). Mr. Graves, the town postman, assists Mr. Summers in directing the ceremony of selecting the unlucky lottery winner. Just as he is an integral part of the drawing, his name symbolizes the element of death that is an integral part of the lottery process.

The black box is the central theme or idea in the story. The box symbolizes, at first, some type of mystery. However, as we read the ending, it is realized that is synonymous with doom. Its black color symbolizes death and absoluteness. A townperson s fate lies in an inanimate object, the black box. The box is a concrete representation of the tradition and ritual associated with the sacrifice.

There was a story that the present 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. Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything s being done. 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. (230)

The condition of the black box represents the slow transformation and decay of the religious ideals that were the foundation of the lottery concept. Not one person in the little town questions the origin of the black box, but they accept it as a tortuous part of their lives.

The effects of the passage of time are also evident by the passage regarding how the chips for wood that were used for generations had been substituted for a direct descendant, slips of paper (230). The black spot drawn on the deciding slip of paper is black to represent the death it brings. The pieces of paper that are lifted away by the breeze are symbolic of the ease with which life can be taken. However, is also symbolic of vast civilizations that were doomed to eventual failure for believing in and acting on tradition and not living according to the word of God. Readers see that even as Tessie is being stoned to death, she does not question the reasoning behind the lottery. She questions why it should be she that has to die.

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Numbers serve many symbolic roles it The Lottery . The stool the black box sits on has three legs, Tessie Hutchinson has three children. The lottery occurs on the twenty -seventh day of June, and the oldest man in the town has been to seventy-seven lotteries. The number three has two meanings in this short story. The first is the Christian concept of the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The box, and thus the lottery itself, rests upon the Christian concept of religion. The number three also represents the three different attitudes of the townspeople toward the lottery. Most of the people seem to be indifferent. People continue the lottery as it was done before them simply because they know no other way. The second attitude is that of concern. Some townspeople are starting to question the tradition. Both Mr. and Mrs. Adams, show some interest in distant towns who discontinued their lottery (232). The third attitude about the lottery is excitement. The older people generally hold this attitude. Old Man Warner expresses their feelings well when he remarks that those who would discontinue the lottery are a Pack of young fools . Listening to the young folks, nothing s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while . First thing you know, we d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There s always been a lottery (232) The three groups vary in viewpoint from wanting abolition of the lottery to wanting to go back to the old ways.

The date of the lottery, the twenty seventh of June, has significance in many ways. If six, the number of the number of the month, is divided by the two in the twenty-seven, it leaves three and the seven. The seventh chapter of Exodus, the third book of the Bible, deals with the guilt offering: a blood sacrifice made to ease the guilt of a make. This is obviously a direct link to the blood sacrifice the townspeople make. The twenty-seven is a strong re-emphasis of the concept of the Trinity; twenty-seven is three to the third powers. The seventy-seven years Old Man Warner has attended the lottery represents luck. Seven is traditionally associated with good luck, and the repetition of the numeral highlights the fact that he has been very lucky to live so long without being singled out as a lottery loser.

Society s future may depend on the allowance of evolution through its present standpoints and how they decide to alter it. Shirley Jackson s use of representative names, objects, and numbers contribute meaning to the story. They all add to the theme of the story, and most serve to highlight certain religious implications of the story. Jackson s feelings toward the misuse of tradition as an excuse to cause harm may have triggered her creativity for the creation of The Lottery . The townspeople all came together for the annual lottery, however, in an interesting twist, those participating stone the winner to death. Everyone in the town seems horribly uncivilized yet they can easily be compared to today s society. After reading The Lottery , one can compare the ritual, in the story, to some of today s barbaric traditions. Hazing is a tradition that has been around for a long time. Perhaps just as barbaric as the stoning, no good at all results from hazing.


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