An Analysis Of Shirley Jackson Short Story The Lottery

The Lottery Symbolic Meaning

Shirley Jackson uses a morbid system of lottery to represent issues in modern society. The author warns readers about the dangers of blindly following distorted and misconceived traditions rooted in traditional beliefs by using the symbolism of the raggedy black boxes and the horror lottery.

The blackbox in the short-story can represent ancient customs, traditions and beliefs that are shared by people from different cultures. The box is nostalgic and old, just like many cultural traditions. Jackson goes so far as to say that it is “shabbier every year” (Jackson 1, Jackson 1). This is similar to the tradition of lottery games in general, and also most modern cultural activities. The box was probably very shiny and clean at first, with sharp corners. The box is no different. Over time, the traditions become less and less accurate. Consider Christmas. Christmas has a deep-rooted Christian origin and was originally celebrated as the birthday of Christ. Today, the black box of Christmas has become a worn-out, dull remnant. Most people now view Christmas as an opportunity to eat, receive gifts for free, and shop at the closest stores. The author wants to make the reader aware that many traditions are just a husk of what they used to be, and not to blindly follow them simply because they’re “customary”. The townspeople, meanwhile, are told that the black box used in the creation of the box came from an original, and they feel contempt towards the tradition. The jack-o’-lanterns of today are a perfect example. Originally, they served to keep away evil spirits and provided light during the darkest nights. Today, the only reason jack-o -lanterns exist is to promote Hallmark Cards. The people justify their spending on earthy gourds by saying that they “stem from their heritage” which must be preserved. This is what the writer warns against: blindly trampling down tradition to maintain it.

It also appears that the lottery is a symbol of a daily procedure that civil servants have just begun to accept. We hear Mr. Warner, Warner’s boss, call a northern village a “pack of crazy idiots” because they want to abolish the lottery tradition. These people were criticized for their progressive views and rebelling against an unjust tradition. It is similar to the current gay marriage controversy. Many people still believe in marriages between men and women. When someone comes along who challenges this traditional viewpoint, they’re often ridiculed and denigrated. The short story is no exception. Mrs. Hutchinson protests “It’s not fair” when she finds out that her lottery has a dot. This plea is quickly dismissed by the townspeople, who proceed to stomp her to death. Morally, the people in this town should know that it’s wrong for them to randomly murder a person each year. But they also don’t wish to break with tradition. This practice has been used by religious groups throughout history. In religions, it’s believed that making a sacrifice can bring abundant harvests in the future. It sounds a lot like Old Man Warner, who said, “Lottery will be in June and corn will be plentiful soon.” Both times, people blindly followed tradition, not seeking change even when it was in the best interest. Jackson acknowledges the danger of this conventional but dangerous thinking and shows a possible dystopian future if humans do not adapt their way of thinking.

Shirley Jackson has a strong opinion about the dangers of people following diluted cultural rituals. Jackson uses the black-box symbolism and the yearly lottery process to make a bold warning against blindly following culture rituals.


  • stanleybyrne

    Stanley Byrne is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher. He has degrees in education and political science from the University of Notre Dame and has worked in various teaching and research positions since he graduated in 2014. He is the author of a number of educational blog posts and has written for Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Salon.