Critical essay”The Lottery” by Shirley JacksonIn “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson uses symbolism to make us aware of the pointless nature of humanity regarding tradition and violence. The story starts off on a beautiful summer day in a small town. The author describes the day as very euphoric but strikes a contrast between the atmosphere of the town and the atmosphere of the people gathered in the square. The atmosphere is subdued, where the children are “gathered around quietly.”The black box is the central theme or idea in the story.
It symbolizes at first some type of mystery, but as we read the ending we realize that it is synonymous with doom. Someone’s fate lies in an inanimate object, the black box. We do not always enjoy change, even if it might prove beneficial to us.
The box is symbolic of our loathing of change; it is old and splintered showing that we cling to what is familiar rather than change and it also symbolizes the traditions of the community. No one in the little town questions the origin of the black box, but accept it as an intrical part of their lives. There is alwaysdiscussion of people getting a new box, but no one ever really goesthrough with it. “Everuy year, after the lottery, Mr.Summers began talkingagain about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fadeoff without anything’s being done”.
The lottery itself is symbolic of the paradox of the human psyche between compassion on one hand and the thirst for violence and cruelty on the other. An example of this is when the children are enjoying a break from school, playing and being children, and suddenly they are being joined by “rational” adults in stoning a mother to death. It appears that tradition has blinded these people in an irrational way, making them unable to think of a reason why this possibly should not be happening.When forced with the possibility of death, human nature in all its complexity, comes down to one instinctive urge, that of survival. When Tessie was in no danger she was gossiping with the other ladies and even encouraged her husband to go and pick a piece of paper. When Tessie wins the lottery; she pleads for another chance and screams for mercy.
She demands that her daughters take their chances as well, which is indicative of regression toward our basic instinct of survival. The pieces of paper that are lifted away by the breeze is not only symbolic of the ease with which life can be taken but is also symbolic of vast civilizations that were doomed to eventual failure for believing in and acting on tradition and not living according to the word of God. We see that even as Tessie is being stoned to death does she not question the reasoning behind the lottery, but why it should be her that has to die.The story also has some symbolic relevance to when it was written in 1948. This was a time where a lot of countries were rebuilding there nations due to the destruction they undertook in World War II. These nations were restructuring how they handled world problems, and how they ran there own countries. There was a lot of change after the war; people were not the same because so many had been affected by it. I think that this story tries to capture some of that.
One example in the book was, “There had been , also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use in addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this also had changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official to speak to each person approaching.” I feel that this shows that she interpreted the story to what was going on in the world around her, and how the world was changing so much. Traditions that people used to feel very strong about were starting to be broken down by the change in time, and world around them.As much as The Lottery symbolizes tradition the driving force through out the story is sacrifice. The author of the, The Lottery used foreshadowing and an astounding plot to present a tale about a melancholy sacrifice. Sacrifice plays a large role in the acute community. It instills a form of obedience and loyalty towards the morbid tradition.
Although tradition changes over time ; the villagers over all concept of sacrifice is never lost.Jackson the author of The Lottery uses sacrifice to build an extremely original plot. Jackson wrote the story as if it were a favorable lottery to through off the readers consistency and twist the plot. Through out the story the author leaves helpful hints to make the theme apparent. For example when Jackson wrote ” Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of rock and the other boys started to follow his example”, and “eventually made a great pile of stones in the corner of the square.” This sign of foreshadowing show’s what method of sacrifice is to be used within the short story. The town had no other choice than to mastermind the lottery. In The Lottery Old Man Warner said” Listen to those young folk, nothing’s good enough for them.
Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live like that for a while.” This quotes intent was to show how much harder it was for the community to strive while living in caves. Also while living in caves the public civilization at the time was in ruin. They had come up with the idea to use a theory brought upon by other communities around them.
Their approach to the theory was to eliminate one individual annually ;so that their crops would come in. They chose this method of sacrifice in order to yield themselves from the responsibility and burden of murder. Even though the towns lottery has lost all traditional value the sacrificing has held steadfast. As it says in The Lottery ” although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remember to use the rocks.” This quote means that even though their tradition has gone off course they will always hold to their beliefs about sacrifice. To summarize they held true to their beliefs because of apprehension. So tradition has subconsciously made the community unaware of their horrible actions.
The citizens of the village are not afraid of change. They are afraid of what change will bring. The present community has never known a year without the lottery or depleted crops. They fear if they if they disband from the traditional sacrifice their crops will fail. Also their warm safe homes will fade away and the dampened caves that have become so fictional to them will appear to be realistic problems.