Symbolism in Shirley Jackson's Story 'The Lottery' Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  3
Wordcount:  671 Words
Date:  2022-03-09

Symbolism is a stylistic device which is commonly used in literary works. it is a situation in which an author uses an item, character or event to represent a general or abstract idea such as tradition, religion, education, and beliefs. In the story, the lottery, Shirley Jackson uses various symbols to represent different ideas. Symbolism is an indispensable aspect in the development of Jackson's story.

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To begin with, the lottery function is itself symbolic. Being a ritual that every villager seems to blindly follow every year, the lottery symbolizes tradition. The ritual is said to happen every 27th day of June each year. In fact, the interested villagers are said to be so many in some towns that the function has to start a day earlier. This explains just how important the ritual seems to be in this side of the world. One person from each household, preferably the head, is supposed to pick a white paper slip from the black box and wait for their fate. This is a little bit barbaric since although the villagers seem to keenly follow it, it is barbaric and cruel. One's fate may be death. Tessie becomes unlucky and is stoned to death. Nevertheless, the lottery as a symbol is very useful in the development of plot. Without the lottery, there would be no story.

Additionally, the white paper slips symbolize the equality of the villagers. Each family has a representative who is supposed to pick a white paper slip from the black box. No family is left out. When Mrs. Hutchinson protests because her husband has drawn the marked slip, one villager tells her to remember that everybody took the same chance. This means that everyone is equal at the lottery, irrespective of who they are or where they come from, and this idea helps in advancing the plot.

Another symbol in the story is the black box. The ominous box, which is mounted on a three-legged stool, symbolizes death. Villagers are supposed to pick white slips from this box. The slip determines who is to be stoned next. The villagers never wanted to replace the box despite it being old and worn out. In the story, it is said that "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 2). The fact that "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 being done" (Jackson 1) reveals the symbolic view with which the villagers silently treat the old black box. They probably think that replacing it would lead to the loss of its meaning. This black box keeps the story running since without it, there would be little or no reverence for the ritual.

Finally, the stones in the story represent an inherent cruelty among human beings. It seems to symbolize the idea that every person is naturally cruel. Some people may look friendly but end up becoming the most barbaric. Mrs. Delacroix, for example, is very friendly to Mrs. Hutchinson at the beginning. However, as soon as Mrs. Hutchinson is named the victim, she becomes exceedingly cruel. She seems to get excited by stones. She is said to have chosen a stone that was so large that she had to use both hands to pick it up, to stone her acquaintance. The stones therefore seem to excite the intrinsic cruelty within her, thus advancing the plot of the story.


In conclusion, it is clear that Shirley Jackson attaches symbolic significance to the stones, the lottery, the white paper slips and the black box to represent ideas such as cruelty, tradition, equality and death. These symbols are crucial for the plot development of the story. Therefore, without them, the story would be incomplete.

Works Cited

Jackson, Shirley. "The lottery." Available at

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Symbolism in Shirley Jackson's Story 'The Lottery' Essay. (2022, Mar 09). Retrieved from

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