I simply absolutely love Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” It is the best short story I have read. I reread it many times to find all the symbolism in the story. If anyone has anything more, do let me know.
Black wooden box. It is a symbol of unchanging and unrelenting deep hole of pain. It represents a coffin that stores death. By definition the word ‘black’ means “Stemming from evil characteristics or forces; wicked or dishonorable.” Initially, it a box that holds mystery, that slowly changes to the box that holds death. It is a box that holds power over the villagers like black magic. In a way, it also symbolizes the villagers’ reluctance to change. It reminds us of our hesitation to change, be it small change like our hairstyle or big change like the tax-system.
White slips of papers. “He dropped all the papers but those onto the ground, where the breeze caught them and lifted them off.” They represent the life of the villagers, which can be taken away at a moment’s notice.
A Black spot on the slip of paper. A black mark always has negative connotations, like a black mark in your report card. If this was a happy lottery, probably it would be a smiley face on the slip of paper.
Man rules everything (really do I need to explain this?). Village community is divided by households. Only the head of the family—the male can draw the lottery. And the entire family has to follow the fate picked/selected by the male—father or husband. This shows two things. One, women have to pay for the crimes of the men. A Man is the always the deciding factor. Two, we as a society do follow the decisions made by our government and leaders. Most of the time we don’t question them, we just follow them.
Everyone is equal when it comes to stoning. In spite of the barbaric stoning for no reasons, it is an equal opportunity punishment. Rich men and their families are as much as at risk as the poor villagers. Mr. Summers who “ran the coal business” had to take part in the lottery like other villagers. Old men are equal to little boys. Little Dave who didn’t understand anything had to draw the white slip like the Old Man Warner who drew the white slip for the “Seventy-seventh time.”
The setting of the story in the village square. All the happy events–spring festival, nativity scene, dances etc.–of the village are organized in the village square. And once a year the villagers take part in stoning at the same place and yet afterwards the villagers continue seeing and using that area.
Children collecting stones. Children from the early age are being groomed to follow in the footsteps of their parents. A kind of institutionalization like North Korea.
A mention of a clever Mnemonic device “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” A human sacrifice in June will produce good crop.
Another interesting set of symbols are the names of the characters:
Mr. Summers. Summer reflects carefree happiness but Mr. Summers contrasts with his name, as he is the bearer of death.
Mr. Graves, like his name puts villagers in their graves.
A juxtaposition of life–Mr. Summers and death–Mr. Graves. “Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves made up the slips of paper and put them in the box.”
Old Man Warner the oldest man in town, like his name is old and doesn’t want to change the tradition of lottery. He probably would be happy living in a cave.