Symbolism in "The Lottery"

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To a first time reader, Shirley Jackson's “The Lottery” seems simply as a curious tale with a shocking ending. After repetitive reading of Jackson's tale, it is clear that each sentence is written with a unique purpose often using symbolism. Her use of symbols not only foreshadow its surprise and disturbing ending but allows the reader to evaluate the community's pervert traditional rituals. She may be commenting on the season of the year and the grass being “richly green” or the toying with the meanings of the character's names but each statement applies to the meaning and lesson behind her story.

As far as symbolism in objects, the most prominent and often mentioned is the “black box” from which the names are drawn from (Jackson 573). The box itself represents the townspeople's fate; being black in color refers to their impending death. After many years of use the box is in very poor shape and described as “shabby” (Jackson 573). In that sense, the splintering of the wood and chipping of the paint is parallel to the falling apart of the tradition since what was once a high honor is now a dreaded consequence. Jackson's mentioning of replacing the old wood chips with slips of paper symbolize the increasing loss of tradition and emerging new ways.

Jackson uses the lottery's conductor Mr. Summers and also Mr. Graves whom oversees the lottery, together to symbolize life versus death, new ideas versus traditional ways. Most simply, Mr. Summers represents the season of which the lottery takes place, June 27th. Summer is known to be full of life and growth which is very similar to Mr. Summer's personality. He is described as a cheerful, jovial man wearing a clean, white shirt and jeans. Mr. Graves' name on the other hand refers to...

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...efore they were born. Adam and Eve questioned God's authority even though they knew no other way of life than to obey Him. A common conception of the townspeople's willingness to continue to participate is the opportunity to “release suppressed cruelties” (Nebeker 6). Though the realization of the horror of their ways may be present in most, it is proof that “humanity's inclination toward violence overshadows society's need for civilized traditions” (Griffen 5).

After reading “The Lottery” it is apparent that Jackson uses symbolism to foreshadow the finale's impending death. Another significant use of symbolism is the repeated connection between the storyline, characters and objects and their reference to Christ and Christianity. No one can decipher every intentional use of symbolism entailed in Jackson's classic piece of fiction, but that is also its appeal.
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