How Unlucky: Literary Elements in 'The Lottery'

Categories: NovelsThe Lottery

The nature of humans is to blindly follow what they are told. If one has grown up learning that things are one way, they will not doubt that what they know is correct. This is shown in Shirly Jackson’s short story titled “The Lottery.” The story shows townsfolk gathering to celebrate the tradition of the yearly lottery. The unexpected twist of the story is that whoever “wins” the lottery is stoned to death by friends, family, and government officials. In this short story, Jackson uses irony, symbolism, and foreshadowing to express her theme of blind tradition leading to destruction.

When one hears the word lottery, they think of good luck and wealth. The irony of this story is that the lottery is actually misfortune for those who ‘win’, leading to their death. The story opens on the lottery day with children playing. It seems as if all are cheerful of the lottery, no one batting an eyelash.

However, as said by Patrick Shields, ‘This setting…conveys an atmosphere which is deceptive since this pleasant summer gathering will sharply change and eventually lead to ritual murder.

”(Shields 5) Furthermore, the excitement of the townsfolk for the day is ironic in itself, as it is not a day to be celebrated. The box used to hold the lottery is a symbol of the towns past. While the original lottery had wooden chips, the present day lottery holds paper. Even so, the symbolism of the lottery has not changed, as the original box is still being used.

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In the story, Jackson states that “the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born.” (Jackson 5)

Even though time has passed and the box is old and worn down, it is still used and is a symbol of the towns belief of the lottery. Tessie Hutchison was late to the town meeting of the lottery. She claimed that she was unaware of the day, the first hint foreshadowing her fate. While it is indeed foreshadowed that something happens to Tessie, it is not obvious that it is something bad. Jackson was known for being “…a master of twist endings and seemingly light tales that hid a dark underbelly of human cruelty and madness”(Twisting Tales 1) which we see from the conclusion of the story. As the “winner” of the lottery, Tessie Hutchinson was stoned to death by her husband, children, friends, and other loved ones.

In conclusion, the foreshadowing points to Tessie’s demise at the hands of those she loves most. “The Lottery” by Shirly Jackson is a mind boggling tale with an underlying theme of human nature. In the work, Jackson used irony, symbolism, and foreshadowing to grasp the reader’s attention and formulate a dramatic work. The name of the story lures the readers into a false sense of positivity, only to be impacted by the horrors of the climax. Humans blindly follow what they are taught without question, and “The Lottery” does a wonderful job of demonstrating this theme.

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How Unlucky: Literary Elements in 'The Lottery'. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved from

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