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Shirley Jackson’S “The Lottery”
Shirley Jackson’S “The Lottery”
Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, raises many questions in the back of a reader’s mind towards the destructive yet blind rituals of mankind. “The Lottery” clearly expresses Jackson’s feelings concerning mankind’s evil nature hiding behind traditions and rituals. She shows how coldness and lack of compassion in people can exhibit in situations regarding tradition and values. Jackson presents the theme of the short story with the use of symbols and setting.
The setting of “The Lottery” supports the theme. Settings are constructed to help build the mood and foreshadow things to come. In the lottery though, the setting foreshadows exactly the opposite of what is to come. The story begins with a description of a seemingly cheerful environment. Jackson creates a comfortable atmosphere by describing the activities of the residents of the town. She describes children breaking into “boisterous play and their talk still of the classroom” (310). Men and women are gathered in the center of the town talking about farming and taxes or into gossip. The date of the story is June twenty-seventh which Helen E. Nebeker states in American Literature, has “symbolic overtones which alerts us to the season of the summer solstice with all its overtones of ancient ritual” (102). Jackson’s description of the setting supports the theme of the story by showing how mankind is capable of cruel acts regardless of their environment.
Symbolism in the story also supports the theme of “The Lottery”. The very names of the characters in the story are laden with meaning. The names of Summers, Graves, Warner, Delacroix and Hutchinson hint at the true nature of the characters. Mrs. Delacroix’s name means of the cross in Latin; therefore hinting at Tessie’s sacrificial killing. Even tough Mrs. Delacroix seems to be a friend to Mrs. Hutchinson it is she who is shown to pick up the largest rock and promotes other people to stone Tessie. Mr. Summers’ name symbolizes life but in reality it is he who is in charge of the lottery which instead of giving life to its winner it gives death. Graves is the man who carries in the black box and the three-legged stool. His name hints to what will happen to Tessie Hutchinson. It is also from Mr. Graves whom the citizens get the papers from, therefore it is almost like he is the one who has the most influence over whose grave it will be next. Old Man Warner, as his name indicates, warns the villagers of the unknown danger of stopping the yearly ritual. The irony here is that even though the old are know for being wise, Old Man Warner seems to be a very ignorant and superstitious being who blindly follows tradition. The names of all the prominent characters in “The Lottery” support the idea that everybody hides their evil nature by way of hypocrisy.
Tessie Hutchinson’s character also provides considerable information on the theme of the story. Her name reminds one of the historical Anne Hutchinson not only because of the name but also because of the small town setting. Anne Hutchinson was a willing martyr who died for her religion and was exiled from her town. Tessie Hutchinson though may at first of the story appear to be a very good-natured and good human being by the way she comes in to the story. She comes in jokingly kidding with a friend of hers about how she almost forgot about the lottery but as soon as she remembered came running. Tessie seems to be a willing participant at the start but when her family’s mane is drawn she shows her true nature. Instead of trying to protect her children she instead demands that her married daughter take part in the drawing just to improve her own chances of survival. Mrs. Hutchinson is a perfect example of how evil exists in everyone and when pushed it can take a mother to risk her own child’s safety.
The symbolism found in the black box is a key point in understanding the importance of tradition in the theme of “The Lottery”. The introduction of the black box into the story changes the mood and atmosphere of the crowd of people. The reason being that the box is what holds the key between life and death for each and every one of them. The black box embodies all the evil acts executed in the past and the ones to come. Even the color of the box is a symbol for evil. The box is painted in black, which has always been a universal symbol for evil and death. The box is also described to have 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” (311). The villagers refused Mr. Summers’ request of making a new box but they were so stuck in the tradition that they did not want anything to upset it. Helen E. Nebeker states that in the “box symbol, Jackson certainly suggests the body of tradition …which the dead hand of the past codified in religion, mores, government, and the rest of culture, and passed from generation to generation, letting it grow ever more cumbersome, and indefensible” (104). By showing the reader that the lottery has become a meaningless cat that people ignorantly follow driven by their own evilness, Jackson has proven the theme found in the story.
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