The Lottery: Symbolism
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Symbolism is a stylistic device often used in literary works. It means that the author takes an object, character or event to reveal a general or abstract idea, such as tradition, religion, education and beliefs. In “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, there is a vivid series of various images to interpret the work. Symbolism is an integral element in the development of events in this story.
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Symbolism in “The Lottery”
Initially, the lottery process itself is symbolic. It is a ritual that every villager blindly performs annually, that is, the lottery symbolizes tradition. There are rumors that the ritual takes place on June 27 every year. It is recognized that in some towns there are so many inquisitive villagers that the lottery has to launch a day earlier. This reflects how important the ritual is in this settlement. One person from each household, preferably the head, has to pull a white piece of paper out of a black box and receive their share. This seems to be a cruel process, although the villagers follow the tradition without hesitation. The resulting fate could even be death. Tessie was unfortunate and was stoned to death. Nevertheless, the lottery remains a key symbol of the development of the plot. Without the lottery, there would be no story.
In addition, white pieces of paper symbolize the identity of the peasants. Each family represents a member who has to pull a white piece of paper from a black box. No family is left out. When Mrs. Hutchinson is disappointed because her husband has drawn a marked ticket, one of the villagers advises her not to forget that everyone has a similar chance. This shows that everyone is equal in the lottery, regardless of their status, and this idea helps to develop the plot.
Moreover, a black box is an apt symbol in the work. The unfortunate case, installed on a three-legged stool, symbolizes death. The villagers have to take out white papers from this box. The paper shows who will be stoned next. The villagers never dared to replace the box, despite the fact that it was old and unusable. The story progresses that “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” (Jackson 2). This example “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 being done” (Jackson 1) displays the symbolic silent attitude of the villagers towards the unusable black box. They apparently believe that replacing it would lead to the loss of its meaning. This black box embodies history, as without it there would be no respect for the ritual.
Ultimately, the stones in this story indicate the cruelty inherent in the people. It seems to symbolize the idea that every human being is cruel from birth. Some people only seem to be friendly, but eventually become the most merciless. Ms. Delacroix, for instance, is initially tremendously supportive of Mrs. Hutchinson. However, once Mrs. Hutchinson is announced a victim, she becomes extremely callous. She seems to be aroused by the stones. We see that she selected a stone that was so large that she had to hoist it with both hands. The stones thus bring out the inner beast in her, therefore influencing the plot of the story.
As a result, Shirley Jackson undoubtedly gives a symbolic image to the stones, lottery, white papers and black box, which are the embodiment of such ideas as cruelty, tradition, equality and death. These symbols are principal to the plot of the story. Therefore, without them the story would lose its primary meaning.