Summary: Irony and Symbolism Throughout “The Lottery”

Categories: The Lottery

Shirley Jackson authored “The Lottery” short story in 1948. This is among her numerous short stories, poems, and other writings which entail her passion. The story has held numerous negative reactions from readers since its publication. The story seems to be controversial as it has inhuman and cruel notions, which readers find unworthy for societies. However, there is a need for a proper analysis of Shirley’s life, the tradition she describes, styles such as irony and symbolism, themes, and characters. These aspects possess a rich explanation for the relevance she portrays.

“The Lottery” offers a distinct illustration of Shirley’s personal life. She seems to have numerous conflicts resulting from differences in perceptions between herself and the ideal society she lives in. She has lived to represent her perspectives in writing form. For instance, from her bibliography, since at a young age, she seems displeased with her society and appears to be more comfortable by her writing different works such as poems while her age mates engage in play.

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The members of her society are depicted to react by hating, fearing, or avoiding her ((Naidu 229). Once, children from her school appear to display their reactions through throwing stones at her, an aspect that looks closer to the core idea in “The Lottery” short story.

Shirley tries to depict the contemporary world as a world rooted in ancient traditions, but without proper reasons for the happenings. This is an aspect that is not directly in her text and gives the reason why her story does not receive an immediate appreciation by readers.

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In the story, there is an incorporation of an ancient form of ritual killing (Naidu 230). However, people seem to be less aware of its significance, but only practices it blindly. It is evident that when children are young, they follow a specific trend taught by their parents and elders but do not have an explanation for the happenings. For instance, Davy is taught the things that he is supposed to do without an account of their significance. 'Take a paper out of the box, Davy. …Davy put his hand into the box and laughed (Jackson 4).” The adults in the village depicted in this story portray the progression of the same concept. For instance, Mrs. Hutchinson does not hold any significance to the activity. She openly says that she has just remembered after recognizing the absence of the children (Jackson 2). Thus, Shirley portrays an actual world whereby people only comply with the ancient teachings but do not tally with their usefulness. The lottery, for instance, has been portrayed as an inhumane activity, but people are just embracing it.

The stylistic devices employed in this short story stimulates the meaning that Shirley attempts to display all along in the text. Firstly, Shirley uses a normal setting to introduce her story. She bases her story on a day during summer, where it appears sunny, clear, and with flesh warmth, flowers are blossoming, and the grass is green (Jackson 1). This is a depiction of an ordinary day for ordinary people in a normal town. Also, the text depicts people having ordinary conversations before the lottery activity. For instance, the men are talking about things like tractors, the children of school and the women are engaging in their normal gossips (Jackson 1). Therefore, the introduction of the story puts the reader in a familiar situation that can provide the basis for following the rest of the storyline. The reader thus hopes the rest of the story is centered at the tranquility that it is introduced at. Shirley also introduces a squared location at the introduction of the story, but without any negative implication. The reader thus acknowledges the location as the center of the town that the story rests in. However, the mysterious happenings in the location are only to be unfolded lately as the story progresses. Also, the normality of the people gathered in the location is to change and the peace introduced to change to irritabilities and chaos after the lottery event.

Besides, irony illuminates in Shirley’s story. Since the introduction of the story does not contain anything abnormal about the town, residents, and the activities, it is ironical for the story to progress and end as it does. The representation of summer is likely to trigger an aspect of several celebrations to the reader’s mind. This happens in the story. However, the outcome of the lottery is ironical since, unlike the rewards that usually result, cruel stoning is the result in this text (Naidu 230). On the other hand, the children have been depicted to collect stones towards a specific point in the square. To the reader’s expectations, collecting stones by children could be among the normal plays that the children engage in. However, the story illustrates this phenomenon as a required duty to the children to gather stones and put them in a specific corner of the square (Jackson 1). It also appears ironical that the community in the story lacks some of the fundamental aspects of every genuine community. For instance, a governing body is absent in the community portrayed in the story. Through the forms of irony, suspense has aroused in the minds of the readers to read along and uncover meanings of the happenings.

The characters used in the story also contain in-depth meaning that the reader can only understand towards the end of the narration. Shirley appears to use ordinary names for her stories such as Mr. Summers, Hutchinson, and Adams. However, there seems to be a correlation between their names and the roles they play all along with the text. Firstly, Mr. Summer has been explicitly used from the beginning of the story. The lottery event is being undertaken in the summer season that is normally characterized by hot weather. Heat is usually strong and pushes people to cope with its standards. In the story, Mr. Summer seems to head the lottery activity. He is constantly calling upon people to make appropriate changes to the lottery event. For instance, the people are supposed to buy a new black box so that it can be significant to the activity (Jackson 2). More so, when the lottery gets over, he pushes people to complete the required practice faster. Therefore, it is evident that all along the story, he is constantly pressing issues on the community members. On the other hand, Mrs. Hutchinson is represented as the protagonist of this story. Shirley uses her as the individual who counters the existing societal norms and traditions. The happenings that surround her are similar to those of a known American objector of religion called Anne Hutchinson whose fate is said to be excommunication through unfair trial. Similarly, character Hutchinson in this story doubts the genuineness of the lottery and the mistreatment by the villagers, but her fate ends with being brutally stoned. She, however, seems to realize this after being the outcome (Naidu 232). Thus, Shirley depicts the societal characters that are actually in existence in the contemporary world.

The themes in “The Lottery” story offers a clear understanding of the upheavals that arise at the onset of modern civilization. Themes of inhumanity, violence, and social stratification are evident all along with the story. Shirley presents her story in the setting of the modern world. The appearance of the environment, the people, and the activities represent the normal world. However, the focus on traditions seems to make a major shift in the normality of the civilized world. The lottery tradition appears to have inhuman consequences, whereby societal members appear to die each year during it. The civilized society seems to be thoughtless about its effects. Moreover, they are even reluctant to make changes such as changing the dark box since they do not intend to change any of its components (Jackson 2). The improved harvest that the custom has been attributed to is being upheld greatly rather than the cost it leaves annually to the villagers. Shirley thus points out the inhumanity that the society progresses with alongside civilization that happens each day. Social class is also evident in the lottery practice. The leaders of the practice are the prominent business owners in the town. For instance, Mr. Summers, Mr. Graves, and Mr. Martin are involved in leading the practice (Jackson, 1). It is evident that they have an advantage over the other villagers since they are less likely to be the victims. The men also appear to be at a higher social level than the women since they are in charge of selecting the papers from the dark box for the entire family (Naidu 233). Thus, as societies progress, it is clear that unquestionable acts of violence and inhumanity are evident in the heart of society.

“The Lottery” contains hidden remarkable lessons to people across cultures, gender, and civilizations. The story is set in a typical environment with normal people and obligations. However, they seem to be held back by traditions which they can eliminate or make better for their welfare. Every society thus stands at a chance to either choose positive or negative progress for the good of all its members.

Works Cited

  1. Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. 1948, pp. 1-8.
  2. Naidu, V. 'Controversial Conflicts In Shirley Jackson's “The Lottery”.' Research Journal Of English Language And Literature, 2014, pp. 229-234., Accessed 8 July 2019.
Updated: Feb 22, 2024
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Summary: Irony and Symbolism Throughout “The Lottery”. (2024, Feb 22). Retrieved from

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