Analysis of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

Categories: Shirley Jackson

Motif is a recurring concept that has significance in literature. In The Lottery, there are two key motifs that support the concept of how dangerous it is to blindly follow tradition. The first motif, family, is significant to the lottery because it later emphasizes the killing’s cruelty since family members turn against each other so easily. The basic structure and execution of the lottery is created from the family ties that the townspeople have. The story setting is in the town square, where every member of each family stand together, forming an elaborate lineage of all ages.

The head of the household signifies family as one unit when they are the ones drawing the slip of paper from the black box. Even though family relationships is important to the rules of the lottery, these relationships’ meanings are thrown out the window when it is time to stone the unlucky winner of the lottery. The unlucky winner, Tessie, is the mother of a fairly large family with a previously adoring husband and seems to be enjoyed by the rest of the town.

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Every single townsperson turns instantly on Tessie, stoning her to death. Stoning is traced back to the beginning of time, a way of execution that could be changed to a more humane way, but it is engraved in the tradition. Loyalty and love is not guaranteed by the lottery, even though it is the foundation of it and family. Such a simple statement, yet it exemplifies how blindly following tradition is dangerous for society.

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The Lottery is rampant with the second motif, rules. These rules are intricately woven throughout the storyline, that are either followed or disregarded. It is suggested that the lottery is an efficient and logical tradition that has an important purpose behind it. However, the disregard of some rules is highlighted when the conclusion reveals the dark and twisted prize that the winner receives. The elaborate system of rules that Mr. Summers follows is started by the creation of the slips of paper and making up the list of families. When the lottery begins, he lays out a series of specific rules that each member of the town must follow, such as who the head of the household is and when the slip of paper should be opened. Such precise rules contradict the shadow of rules that have been erased out of the memories of the townspeople, but that remain as tradition, such as salutes and songs. The stark contrast of rules culminates the haphazardness of the murder at the end of the lottery, and how traditions are followed blindly.

The integral piece to the lottery is the black box, which represents the tradition that is blindly followed by the townspeople. This black box is barely black from the years of use, and it is falling apart, but the villagers are averse to the replacement of this symbolic piece. The attachment stems from the narrative that the current black box is made up of pieces from another, older black box. Similar relics that have been passed down from the past, that signify pieces of tradition that must be included, because it is blindly followed so it must be done. Surprisingly, some traditions have been altered to fit in with the advancements of the world, but these are changes that upkeep the result. For example, wood chips were switched out for slips of paper. This change is simple, yet it also represents the illogical reason why change is only applicable to certain parts of the tradition. The gory tradition that the box symbolizes is the epiphany of the danger of blindly following this tradition.

The symbolic meaning of the tradition of the lottery represents much more than just murder. It represents any action, behavior, or idea that is passed down as tradition that is accepted and followed blindly, no matter how illogical, bizarre, or cruel it is. The annual ritual of the lottery is a tradition that nobody questions. It even has an old saying that accompanies it “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” Even though the townspeople are engrossed in the loyalty to this tradition, there are parts of the lottery that are absent or have faded away over the years. However, the lottery continues, simply because there has always been a lottery and there will always be a lottery. This tradition is more comfortable to partake in, even though it involves gory murder on an annual basis. The storyline brings to light when traditions are followed blindly by new generations without question, what kind of dangerous carnage can be caused.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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Analysis of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. (2021, Mar 22). Retrieved from

Analysis of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson essay
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