Symbolism of Shirley Jackson’s Lottery


Modern literature is characterized by a culture of brief yet necessary and inventive stories. Shirley Jackson’s short tale The Lottery, released in the New York Yorker magazine in 1948, was her first to garner ample notice from readers (Encyclopedia Britannica, par. 1). The Lottery is a bizarre tale in which a lottery determines which community member would be condemned to death the following year. This story is steeped in references to modern society and the principle of victimhood. Moreover, the author has laid down multiple metaphorical mouthpieces in the story, symbolizing societal trends. In this case, special attention should be paid to the aspect of the cult of tradition, its destructive manifestations, and aggression built on fear. In order to draw up a detailed analysis, it will be necessary to analyze several key characters and cite specific quotations from the story to convey the atmosphere of what is happening. However, the main point of this essay is that Jackson utilizes the black box and Tessie Hutchinson as symbolism in the short narrative to demonstrate how people would mindlessly follow useless rituals.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Names for the lottery are drawn each time the lottery is held with the help of the black box. It depicts the lottery’s tradition and the irrational emotion of the locals’ devotion to it. The black box was referenced multiple times throughout the novel, and since it was ragged and worn out, no one wanted to replace it. “Mr. Summers repeatedly spoke to the villagers about creating a new box,” the reader is told toward the novel’s opening (Jackson 86). The townsfolk are enamored with the box to the point of obsession. It demonstrates how the residents are adamant about not replacing the black container. “It is falling apart and, because the paint is so chipped, is hardly even black anymore,” the author writes, consequently showing her attitude towards the cult of traditions (Jackson 84). The villagers are inadequately loyal to the black container due to the fact that it contains parts of its previous iteration after being rebuilt. The reason here is in the basis of their rituals, which include the usage of the same black box which initially started lethal lotteries, thus making it a tradition that the villagers follow.

It is also essential to analyze the further events in the short story. “The remainder of the year, the box was placed away, sometimes one spot, sometimes another,” says the locals (Jackson 85). Even though the lottery is a significant event, people place the box in unusual locations. Such an attitude gives the impression that the villagers spend the rest of the year trying to forget that they did such a cruel thing to someone. Consequently, in this part, the author aims to represent that even those who follow traditions are not as fond of them as society perceives them.

Tessie Hutchinson represents the vast majority of individuals who do not challenge societal injustice until it affects them directly. Tessie Hutchinson adheres to the local lottery ritual until her family is selected. Tessie nearly missed the lottery at first because she “forgot what day it was… and then I peeked out the window and the kids were gone, and then I realized it was the twenty-seventh and came rushing” (Jackson 85). Tessie has played the lottery so often that she has concluded that she will not be the winner. Such rhetoric had been so accustomed to her that the lottery day was entirely forgotten. Tessie is attempting to justify herself by claiming that the lottery was unfair. She looked content to be in the lottery before being selected, making her a hypocrite. “Shut up, Tessie,” her husband replies as Tessie is ready to be stoned to death and protests that it is not fair (Jackson 87). As a result, the scene implies that Bill Hutchinson is embarrassed by Tessie’s objection since he does not want to disrupt the lottery’s tradition.

Old Man Warner is an essential character not only for the story but also for the analysis on a metaphysical level. He has been organizing the lottery for decades and does not want it to end. He symbolizes the older generation, that often resists any possible changes. When we first meet Old Man Warner, he seems like a man unwilling to change.

When one of the other villagers mentions that some of the other villages are giving up the lottery, the character aggressively protests against such an idea. The reader is aware that they will not return to live in caves and will not be eating stewed chickweed and acorns, but it seems like degradation of such level for the character mentioned above. The reader understands that Old Man Warner opposes the change, which is good. When he has his dialogue scenes, it becomes apparent that he refuses to disrupt the custom.


In conclusion, based on the above findings and conclusions, the black box represents death and gloom and the main characters of the story. The latter additionally strongly reflects this symbolism and the translation of ideas about interaction with the radical culture of tradition. The black box represents death and gloom. Tessie Hutchinson represents those who do not challenge customs until they impact them directly, no matter how inhumane they are. Old Man Warner represents the older generation’s resistance to change. Jackson attempts to understand how people would follow any tradition, no matter how brutal it may be.

Works Cited

Encyclopedia Britannica. “Watch a Dramatization of Shirley Jackson’s Allegory of Barbarism and Social Sacrifice ‘The Lottery.’” Encyclopedia Britannica, Web.

Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery (Tale Blazers: American Literature). Perfection Learning, 2007.

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