Symbolism is a literary practice that employs symbols to convey a more important and profound interpretation rather than the apparent literal meaning. Among these symbols are images, scenarios, things, and persons, to name a few. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a novel that employs meaning in a variety of ways, including the use of items such as stones as metaphors. This essay investigates the use of symbolism in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” especially in the title Lottery and the black box piece.
The black box, as used in the novel, represents the dark side of the lottery ritual, as the final events are sad with Tessie Hutchinson’s death. The box represents doom, where the fate of Tessie was decided at the end of the ritual with chants declaring the unfairness of the activity leading to the stoning of the winning participant. “Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head” (Jackson Shirley 25). The box was black, and this color represents darkness, other colors such as white represent peace which was quite the opposite in this case where chaos arose resulting in the death. The condition of the box was deteriorating regarding its coloring and age as well. The black color of the box was fading year after year having been used for quite a long time. “The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained” (Jackson Shirley 26). The fading color of the box represents a fading tradition or the end of times for the lottery ritual. However, despite the box being old, the villagers were willing to continue using it and suggestions for having a new box were futile. “Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything’s being done”. There was evidence of civilization in the village with schools and banks, showing that some traditions such as lottery were unnecessary.
Lottery symbolized a tradition or rather a behavior, action or idea used by generations and passed over to new ones. The tradition is followed and accepted without questioning, despite having some aspects of cruelty and lacking logic. “”Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon. First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,” he added petulantly” (Jackson Shirley 28). The lottery took place every year in the month of June, even with the fading parts of the activity. However, this particular lottery activity represents a tradition that has lost meaning and which irrationally blinded the villagers from thinking out its reasons for happening. As Jackson writes, “The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and 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,” the traditions were fading. As a tradition, villagers taught lottery to all generation including the young, “Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones” (Jackson Shirley 25). Even the young in the village were learning about the lottery and some of its rituals.
Jackson, Shirley. “The lottery.” The New Yorker 26 June, 1948, pp. 25-28.