“The Lottery”, written by Shirley Jackson, is filled with symbols. The symbols in the story make the readers aware of impending events and to communicate deeper messages. The Lottery is a story about a small town using an annual ritual of human sacrifice. The townspeople do not remember why the lottery ritual exists but out of tradition, it is accepted as common practice. Jackson uses symbolism to communicate deeper messages about the town and its people through her use of the character names, lottery process, and stones.
Jackson uses symbolic character names to subtly provide clues that this story is not as it appears and to enhance the storyline. The “names of the characters are laden with significance” (Yarmove 243), as demonstrated by the following examples. Joe Summers, the officiator of the lottery, is symbolic for the season of the lottery. The lottery is conducted in the summer “on June 27th, “the day is clear and sunny and the flowers were blossoming profusely” (Jackson 236). Mr. Summers’ name represents the lottery because he is the leader and his name reminds the villagers the time of year the lottery occurs. Harry Graves’ name implies death. Mr. Graves’ name signals a sinister purpose because his name “sounds a somber, forewarning note of what will happen to Tessie” (Yarmove 243). Mr. Graves’ name warns that someone will die. The first four letters of Old Man Warner’s last name, spells warn. Mr. Warner, the “oldest man in town” (Jackson 237), is in the best positon to warn the villagers “about the primordial function of the lottery, which is to ensure fertility” (Yarmove 243). Warner represents the traditional history of the lottery and is the primary supporter that the lottery should remain. The name Delacroix has a composite symbolic meaning. In Spanish, de means from and la means the; and, in French, croix means cross. Together, the symbolic meaning for Delacroix is from the cross, which suggests a crucifixion. “Mrs. Delacroix’s name alludes to the pseudo-crucifixion of Tessie” (Yarmove 243) as a human sacrifice. The cross symbolic meaning infers there will be some sort of human sacrifice like the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. The use of names foreshadows the upcoming events and reinforce that there are other meanings for the readers to consider.The symbols used in the lottery process provide the most valuable clues. “Men control the lottery” (Oehlschlaeger (259) because they perform the important roles in the lottery process. To further demonstrate superiority of the men, the little boys collect the stones while the little girls watch. When assistance is needed, Mr. Summers “inquires whether any of the ‘fellows’ might want to give a hand” (Oehlschlaeger (259), excluding the women. The male dominance is portrayed throughout the story. Because Clyde Dunbar has a broken leg and did not attend the lottery, Mr. Summers wants to know who is representing the Dunbar family in the selection process. He asked Janey Dunbar, his wife; and, when she replies that she would select, Mr. Summers inquires, “don’t you have a grown boy to do this for you” (Jackson 239) even though he knew that she did not. This inquiry is stronger evidence that men are preferred to women even during the black box drawing. The black box is the most ominous symbol in the lottery process as it creates a dismal image of doom. The black box, symbolically, represents fear, evil and death. The most important clue that the black box represents fear, evil and death is when the Hutchinson’s family selects the paper with the black dot. Tessie Hutchinson strongly protests the selection made by her husband, “you didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted” (Jackson 241). Her protests included insisting that her daughter and son-in-law are included in her family drawing to decrease her chance of selecting the paper with the black dot. The paper containing the black dot within the black box means death to the holder. Nervousness among the villagers is exhibited throughout the story and even more during the selection process. The townspeople are “subdued, even nervous” (Yarmove 244) as they wait to learn who is the unlucky lottery winner. The “villagers kept their distance” (Jackson 237), from the black box, which indicates that the black box is the beginning of the end for someone. The black box with the black dotted paper are critical to understanding the message of doom. The symbols surrounding the lottery process offer the strongest messages that the lottery is unconventional.
The symbolic stones are evasive because there is not any initial indication that they will be used for violence. The boys stocking piles of stones and stuffing their pockets with the stones indicate play. The statement, “Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pocket full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example” (Jackson 236), does not suggest any evil acts. The vision of boys collecting stones suggests boyish summer activities. Using the stones for violent purposes becomes clear as the story unfolds. In review of this statement, “they stood together, away from the pile of stones” (Jackson 236) suggest that villagers’ avoidance indicate their fear of what the stones represent. The emphasis on the type of stones provides a clue as to their intent because the boys selected the “smoothest and roundest stones” (Jackson 236). The emphasis placed on the types of stones suggest that these stones make it easier to hit the intended target. Even though many of the traditions associated with the lottery are forgotten, “they still remembered to use stones” (Jackson 242), speak to the villagers’ violent nature. They eliminate and/or forget much of the ritual activities but the villagers remember the stones because this is critical to their violent nature. Mrs. Delacroix who cheerfully embraces Mrs. Hutchinson and appears to be a friend, “selected a stone so large that she had to pick it up with both hands” (Jackson 242) is an extreme example of a person’s propensity for violence and lack of compassion. The townspeople became alive and all are fully engaged in the stoning of Tessie to the point that nothing else matters. The violence is enjoyed by all from the oldest Old Man Warner to the youngest villagers, as the “children had stones” (Jackson 242). So, without any consideration to emotional impact, Old Man Warner supports the lottery because he states that “the individual must be sacrificed to maintain community structure” (Oehlschlaeger (260). The villagers believe that stoning is necessary because they enjoy violence and it provides a method of guilt free murder.
“The Lottery” effectively uses symbolism to capture the central theme of the story. These symbols engage the readers so that the obvious objects and characters are not taken at face value. The readers are encouraged to look for deeper meanings to understand the story. Jackson’s symbolic use of the character names, the lottery process, and the stones gently guides the readers to expect the unexpected.