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The Lottery: Symbolism
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In The Lottery, Shirley Jackson uses symbolism to make us aware of the pointless nature of
humanity regarding tradition and violence. The story starts off on a beautiful summer day in a small
town. The author describes the day as very euphoric but strikes a contrast between the atmosphere
of the town and the atmosphere of the people gathered in the square. The atmosphere is subdued,
where the children are gathered around quietly.
The black box is the central theme or idea in the story. It symbolizes at first some type of mystery,
but as we read the ending we realize that it is synonymous with doom. Someone's fate lies in an
inanimate object, the black box. We do not always enjoy change, even if it might prove beneficial to
us. The box is symbolic of our loathing of change; it is old and splintered showing that we cling to
what is familiar rather than change and it also symbolizes the traditions of the community. No one in
the little town questions the origin of the black box, but accept it as an intrical part of their lives.
The lottery itself is symbolic of the paradox of the human psyche between compassion on one hand
and the thirst for violence and cruelty on the other. An example of this is when the children are
enjoying a break from school, playing and being children, and suddenly they are being joined by
rational adults in stoning a mother to death. It appears that tradition has blinded these people in an
irrational way, making them unable to think of a reason why this possibly should not be happening.
When forced with the possibility of death, human nature in all its complexity, comes down to one
instinctive urge, that of survival. When Tessie was in no danger she was gossiping with the other
ladies and even encouraged her husband to go and pick a piece of paper. When Tessie wins the
lottery; she pleads for another chance and screams for mercy. She demands that her daughters take
their chances as well, which is indicative of regression toward our basic instinct of survival.
The pieces of paper that are lifted away by the breeze is not only symbolic of the ease with which life
can be taken but 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. We see that even as
Tessie is being stoned to death does she not question the reasoning behind the lottery, but why it
should be her that has to die.
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