Symbolism is the application of symbols to signify things or bring them to mind. In her story “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson expresses her emotions towards man’s carelessness and violent practices of traditions. This is shown when the lottery takes place in the story and the “winner” is stoned to death to help crop growth in the village. Shirley Jackson uses symbolism to represent a sequence of events that occur throughout the story. She uses symbolism in the characters’ names, the black box, and the lottery itself.
Symbolism is exposed in “The Lottery” in some of the characters’ names, which include Mr. Summers, Mr. Graves, Old Man Warner, and Mrs. Delacroix. In the story, Mr. Summers is a man who is responsible for all the civic activities including the lottery. His name is symbolic because the tradition of the lottery takes place in the summer time. Also, the word summer is used to describe happiness, beauty, and tranquility. So, despite the feelings of happiness and relaxation that may come from his name, Mr. Summers plays a role in helping with the death of a villager.
Mr. Graves, the holder of the black box, assists Mr. Summers in conducting the lottery. Mr. Grave’s name symbolises death which is the outcome of the short story “The Lottery”. His name foreshadows that death is to come. The author chose to associate his name with his character, revealing that Mr. Graves plays a role in the death of the villagers.
Old Man Warner is the oldest man in the village, and has participated in seventy-seven lotteries. He is fearful of change and therefore, he does not want any changes in the tradition of the lottery regardless of the dreadful outcome. He expresses that when he says, “…used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon’…” Reading that his name is Old Man Warner, the reader would assume that he will warn people of doing the right thing and that he will be the wisest one amongst all the villagers – since he is the oldest thus the more experienced one. However, he does not, and he demonstrates that when he is at the front of the crowd encouraging people to throw stones at the victim of the lottery, Tessie Hutchinson, and saying, “come on, come on, everyone” (Jackson 6).
Mrs. Delacroix’s name is also significant in this story because the word “Delacroix” in French means “of the cross”. In the Christian religion, the cross symbolizes dignity, respect, courage, and compassion, which is the exact opposite of the actions she portrays. In the story Mrs. Delacroix was the one who picked up the largest stone to throw at Tessie Hutchinson and said to her friend Mrs. Dunbar, “come on, hurry up” (Jackson 5).
When people think of the colour black they think of evil, darkness, and/or something bad. In this short story, a black box is used to hold the slips of paper that are drawn out by the villagers. The black box is shabby and the villagers can see that clearly, however, they do not want to replace it. As Shirley Jackson says in her short story “Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box” (1). This quote shows that because they think it is a part of the tradition of the lottery, the villagers want to leave it as it is.
Shirley Jackson uses the colour black to symbolize evil; the wickedness that will come from this black box. Shirley Jackson could have also used the black box as a reference to Pandora’s Box. In Greek mythology, it is said that Zeus gave Epimetheus’ wife Pandora a box and told her never to open it. Out of curiosity, Pandora opened the box and it unleashed all the bad things that exist in the world such as hate, poverty, and sickness. Therefore, Shirley Jackson could have used the black box in the story to symbolize that when the black box in “The Lottery” is opened, something bad will happen as well.
Shirley Jackson uses a great amount of symbolism in the actual lottery itself. She uses the brutal and merciless practices of the lottery to draw attention to the cruelty found in society today. The lottery is a tradition practiced by these villagers to bring luck in their corn growth, by sacrificing a villager. It isn’t logical that any good would come out of stoning someone to death, yet the traditions and practices make the villagers think otherwise.
The short story “The Lottery” uses a great amount of symbols to deliver what the author wants her readers to see. Symbols such as the characters’ names, the black box, and the lottery itself make up the story and foreshadow events and ideas that later present themselves. In conclusion, by using these symbols, Shirley Jackson was able to successfully portray her emotions towards man’s carelessness.
“Classic Short Stories” _The Lottery_. Web. 26 March. 2010.
“Online Dictionary” _Symbolism_. Web. 26 March. 2010