Tradition and Consequences in Shirley Jackson’s "The Lottery"

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Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" delves into the complexities of a seemingly innocent tradition that unfolds into a chilling narrative of fear and consequence. Beyond the initial connotations of winning a grand prize, the word "lottery" carries an ominous weight for the villagers, unraveling a dark ritual that exposes the dangers of blind adherence to tradition. This essay explores the symbolism, brutality, and societal reflection embedded in the narrative, urging readers to critically examine ingrained customs.

The Ominous Black Box: Symbol of Tradition

The lottery, an ancient ritual occurring every June 27th in the village, begins as a facade of normalcy but soon reveals itself as a source of collective fear.

At the heart of this tradition is the timeworn black box, showing signs of decay, yet the villagers adamantly resist its replacement. The black box, a symbol representing the lottery itself, becomes an immediate and ominous association for the villagers. The color black, traditionally linked with death, forebodes the sinister nature of the ritual.

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Despite the villagers forgetting the ritual's origin and losing the original black box, they tenaciously adhere to the custom of using stones. The pile of stones, prepared by the boys, lies in readiness with scraps of paper blown out of the box. This use of stones, akin to the black box, stands as one of the few unaltered traditions. The village, otherwise appearing quaint and civilized, employs the brutal and archaic technique of stoning. The willingness to use stones on the chosen lottery victim exposes a transformation from a peaceful facade to a community capable of gruesome and unmerciful violence.

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Tradition's Grip and Societal Reflection

While certain aspects of the old traditions undergo modifications, such as the use of paper instead of wood chips, the overarching sacrificial method remains intact. The lottery, as a symbol, mirrors the perpetuation of outdated customs upheld through blind faith. Mr. Adams hints at a shift in perspective from the younger generations in neighboring villages, contemplating the abandonment of the lottery. Old Man Warner, staunch in his adherence, dismisses these thoughts with disdain, illustrating resistance to change ingrained in traditionalists.

"The Lottery" serves as a cautionary tale, urging society not to become blind slaves to tradition. It warns against unreflective conformity, emphasizing the severe consequences that may follow. The narrative serves as an allegorical mirror reflecting the need for critical examination of entrenched traditions in our own lives.

Questioning Tradition: A Societal Imperative

The narrative's exploration of questioning traditions resonates with the real-life necessity to challenge outdated norms. As younger generations in various villages ponder the practicality of the lottery, Jackson prompts readers to contemplate their own societal norms. The story serves as an allegory for the dangers of mindless adherence to tradition, advocating for a society that evolves through critical evaluation and progress.

In conclusion, Shirley Jackson’s "The Lottery" serves as a powerful exploration of the consequences that arise from blindly following tradition. The ominous black box and the ritualistic stoning symbolize the dark underbelly of a seemingly peaceful village. By unraveling the layers of symbolism and societal reflection embedded in the narrative, Jackson urges readers to question traditions critically. The consequences of blind conformity, as portrayed in the story, underscore the imperative for a society that evolves through thoughtful reflection on its customs and practices.

Updated: Dec 01, 2023
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Tradition and Consequences in Shirley Jackson’s "The Lottery". (2016, Dec 29). Retrieved from

Tradition and Consequences in Shirley Jackson’s "The Lottery" essay
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