the lottery symbols

Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery Symbolism and Analysis

The Lottery Symbolism

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is a story filled with symbolism. The basic premise of “The Lottery” is almost certainly symbolic, and nearly every element of the story represents an idea the author wants to explore. It is the exploration of these symbols which makes this story so interesting. It is also what makes this story so challenging, because the author doesn’t give all the answers. This lack of simple answers forces the reader to find his or her own answers to the meaning of the story. This article will examine The Lottery symbolism along with analysis.

The Lottery Itself

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The lottery itself is clearly symbolic and, at its most basic, that symbol is of the unquestioned rituals and traditions which drive our society. The author considers those things which make no inherent sense, yet are done because that is how they have always been done. These traditions can be something as simple as cutting down a tree and putting it in your house for Christmas, but they can also be far more important and sinister traditions of racism and sexism.

The Lottery Box

The most symbolic item that appears in “The Lottery” is the lottery box. This box is a symbol for those in the town because it is one of the only connections to the origin of the lottery. It has been used for as long as anyone can remember, but is not the original box. Instead they believe that some of the pieces from the original lottery box may have been used to create the new box, but that is not certain. This makes clear that any real connection to the original meaning of lottery have disappeared. Still, the lost meanings of the tradition have in many ways made that tradition more powerful, because you can’t question a tradition once it has moved beyond reason to simply the way things are done.


The method of execution at the end of the story is certainly not an arbitrary choice. Stoning is one of the oldest and most common forms of execution, but it is also one of the most symbolic. It has strong connection to many people due to its prevalence throughout The Bible. Many of the first Christian martyrs were stoned to death and serve as a symbol for the innocent being executed. In addition, the story of Jesus stopping a stoning with the words “He who is without sin cast the first stone” is one everyone knows at least indirectly. This phrase, while never said in this story, is hard to forget after reading it. One of the reasons that stoning was used in the past as well as the reason that it is important in this story is that there is no single executioner. This means that no single person has passed judgment or has to carry the guilt for taking a life alone. This is the same reason that execution by firing squad has so many people shooting (often many with blanks). This is important for the story of “The Lottery” because it helps to make clear who the enemy in the story is. In order for stoning to be effective it requires a crowd to act together. This reinforces the point that the antagonist of this story it is not a single person but society.

Considering the Author

[caption aligncenter” width="274”] Shirley Jackson[/caption] The symbols of “The Lottery” become a bit clearer when you understand that the author was a woman in 1948 America. This made her someone who had a lot of reason to find the longstanding traditions to be just as vile as those traditions in “The Lottery”. Whether this was segregation, the lack of free voting rights or any of the many other traditions which still exist primarily because they have always existed. These are traditions which are often difficult for those who are not hurt by them to see clearly and that stories like “The Lottery” help to illuminate. In addition, a woman being the one chosen by the lottery is important. This is in some way the author putting herself symbolically into the place of the victim. Just as important, it shows the tradition has subverted the natural instinct that men have to protect women. It also made the victim of the lottery someone who was hurt by tradition in the nonfictional world as well.

“The Lottery” is filled with symbols. This story is in many ways a parable more than a traditional story. A society so mired in its traditions that it has lost the ability to even look at the reasons for those traditions, but instead follows them blindly even when they hurt its citizens. Since this is a danger every society faces, “The Lottery” remains relevant in part because the symbols in the story are never fully explained.

It is impossible to understand the meaning behind "The Lottery" without first understanding the symbolism within. Explore The Lottery symbolism here!

Symbols in “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

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.

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… ]]>