How Symbols Enhance Themes in The Lottery Essay Sample

How Symbols Enhance Themes in The Lottery Pages
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            In The Lottery, the story opens on a village in a state of excitement and anticipation – the lottery is about to take place. The true nature of the lottery is something that the reader does not find out until the closing lines of the story, and of course the reader is shocked to discover that “first prize” is death by stoning.  Shirley Jackson uses this story to portray themes of hypocrisy in society, evil and innocence, and the danger of observing ancient rituals when their true meaning has become lost.  Jackson uses symbols such as the black ballot box, Tessie Hutchinson, Davey Hutchinson, and the rituals of the lottery itself to enhance these themes within the story.

            Tessie Hutchinson, as the lottery “winner” symbolizes the hypocrisy that is present in a society which accepts and allows violence as long as it happens to someone else. Tessie Hutchinson begins to protest the lottery only when her family is chosen, and she is desperate to have the rules bent to include her daughter’s family. However, with several children and a daughter old enough to be married, she has obviously taken part in many lotteries and was presumably happy to throw stones in the past. Just as the other villagers do not question the lottery, Tessie herself has never questioned it until she realized that she could be chosen – her sense of justice, of what is “fair”, is not active until her own personal safety is at stake.

            Davy Hutchinson, Tessie’s youngest son, symbolizes the corrupting nature of evil and society. He is only a child, and yet he, like the adults, must take his chance at the lottery. He does not understand the process at all – he cannot choose his ticket without help, and he looks around “wonderingly”. Davy is an innocent, but when Tessie is selected, he becomes corrupted – someone hands him a few pebbles, so that he can take part in the stoning of his mother.

            The black box that is used to hold the lottery tickets is shabby and discolored, and “splintered badly”. Despite Mr. Summers’ repeated suggestions that they replace the box, the villagers continue to use what they have, even though it is worn with age. The box and its age is a symbol of the ancient tradition of the lottery, and the village’s unwillingness to break with traditions – just as they refuse to replace the box, the villagers refuse to give up the lottery itself, even though other villages have already done so, and even though many of the villagers are no longer sure what the purpose of the lottery actually is.

The danger of observing old rituals without understanding why is another strong theme. Old Man Warner’s comments suggest that the lottery is a kind of sacrifice to ensure a good harvest – he says “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” and when Mr. Adams mentions towns that have given up the lottery, Warner’s response is “Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while” – he thinks that giving up the lottery would be a step backwards for their society, that they would become more primitive.  The only concession to modernizing the lottery process is made when the village’s population reaches such a size that it is necessary to substitute slips of paper for the wood chips that were once used as tickets. Despite the fact that they refuse to give up these old traditions and rituals, the villagers conduct the lottery in a way that suggests that it has lost most of the meaning it once had. Most of the rituals has been “forgotten or discarded” – there was once ritual chanting, salutes, and robes, but they are no longer used. Only the lottery itself, and the stoning, remains.

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