Analytical Essay The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

AnalyticalEssay: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Abrief introduction of the Author: Shirley Jackson

Beforeanalyzing how Shirley Jackson used symbolism to advance the theme ofthe humanity, a brief introduction would enable the reader to knowher background and work as a classical author and poet. Jackson is anative of San Francisco, California. She was born on December 14,1916, in Burlingame (Jackson, 1). While growing up in Burlingame,Jackson developed an interest in writing poetry and also shortstories. After her family had moved east, she enrolled at theUniversity of Rochester. Jackson would never complete her studies atRochester because she had a different dream to altogether. Sheintended to focus writing. She would stay at home with the aim ofpracticing how to write until she perfected it. She learned to writeas many as one thousand words in every session. Her first shortstory was “Janice”, which wrote shortly after joining SyracuseUniversity. This development would earn her an appointment as theeditor of the humor segment on the campus magazine. “The Lottery”was just one among many short stories she wrote with her husband,Stanly Hyman. Many of her essays were published in magazines(Hattenhauer 24). The “Lottery” is about a community that engagesin an inhumane ritual all in the name of maintaining a culture whoseroots the community knew little about. The ritual involves choosing amember of the society from the family that turns out to have “a bigblack dot” through a lottery event. The chosen person would then bestoned to death as a way of appeasing the gods to bring prosperity tothe community.

Symbolismin the short story

Inthe literary context, a symbol is an idea, object, place, deed,character or an event that embodies an overt or covert meaning beyondits literal representation. The theme of humanity is ubiquitous inthe short story, and Jackson expounds on it through the use ofsymbols. The first and most straightforward symbol is the blackbox.As stated in the novel, the blackbox was “the only availableparaphernalia” that signified and enabled the people to rememberthe community ritual. Jackson uses the blackbox to demonstrate thepotentiality of human evil. The town people hold onto a traditionwhose rituals they can hardly remember in detail except black box andstoning lottery event. The people are unable to interrogate furtherand carry out the rituals in the correct way as their forefathers. Instead, the blindly follow the misleading interpretations of theseniors advance a barbaric ritual they only have flimsy memoriesabout. Jackson depicts the blackbox as old and unrepaired symbolizingthe backwardness of the traditional ritual of stoning people to deathand the timidity of the town people to stand up for humanity ratherthan entrench a heinous tradition. Even Mr. Summers is part of thesame societal stagnation. Jackson writes, “Mr. Summers spokefrequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one likedto upset as much tradition as was represented by the blackbox”[Jackson 1].

Thesecond symbol is “The lottery” event. The event preceded thestoning ritual after selecting the sacrificial victim from a family. Overtly, the ritual is barbaric, but assigning the element of chanceand destiny through “The big black dot” was a way to justify acruel tradition. The symbol portrays humanity as capable ofshamelessly justifying acts that should otherwise attractcondemnation and punishment. Perhaps, the crafters of the ritualsuch as Mr. Summers intended to make the process appear asegalitarian as possible to eliminate any chances of suspicion. Thesuperiors succeed to manipulate and lead the community to its owndestruction. The third symbol is the names and traits of thecharacters. Scrutiny of the character’s names and traits issymbolic of their real personalities in the story. Old Man Warner isthe first character whose name and actions speak much about hispersonality. The name depicts him as blind, old-fashionedtraditionalist who would stop at nothing but keep the ritual [Griffin44]. Old man Warner is fond of rejecting any new suggestions on howto conduct the lottery. Old man Warner is also resistant to societalchange because he views any changes as worse than what the communityhas been accustomed to for many years. Warner’s traits symbolic tohis name are evident in his response to Mr. Adams against adissenting northern village within the community. Warner says, “Packof crazy fools listening to the young folks, listening to the youngfolks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know they’llbe wanting to go back to living in the caves, nobody work anymore….”[Jackson 4].

Inconclusion, the theme of humanity gets a new twist from one symbol toanother. Jackson intended to tie the central theme around thedecisions that people make in their sanity. The villagers had thedestiny of their community in their hands, but they did nothing toshape it. Their hands had been tied by a backward tradition that wasorchestrated by evil seniors. The lottery`s context was in 1948. This was a few years after World War II. Thus, it is plausible tolink the story to the war narrative of Nazi Germany. The Nazimovement also used the seemed hoodwinking tactics to plunge the worldinto senseless destruction.


Griffin,Amy A. &quotJackson`s The Lottery.&quot The Explicator 58.1 (1999):44-46.

Hattenhauer,Darryl. ShirleyJackson`s American Gothic.New York: State Univ. of New York Press, 2003. Print.

ShirleyJackson. 2009, Web. Available at

Jackson,Shirley. TheLottery by Shirley Jackson. Chicago:Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corporation, 1969.