The Lottery, a short story by the nonconformist author Shirley Jackson, represents communities, America, the world, and conformist society as a whole by using setting and most importantly symbolism with her inventive, cryptic writing style. It was written in 1948, roughly three years after the liberation of a World War II concentration camp Auschwitz. Even today, some people deny that the Holocaust ever happened.
Jackson shows through the setting of the story, a small, close knit town, that even though a population can ignore evil, it is still prevalent in society (for example: the Harlem Riots; the terrorist attacks on September 11; the beating of Rodney King. ) In The Lottery, year after year, even since Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was a child, the same ritual has gone on. It is as if the community never learns from its previous mistakes. As long as no one in the town speaks up about such a twisted yearly event, nothing is ever going to change.
If Martin Luther King or Malcolm X wouldn’t have raised their voices against the prejudice that they had experienced their entire lives, we might still be living in a segregated world, which was once thought to be “okay. ” This is similar to The Lottery, in which the townspeople are brainwashed into believing that this ritual is normal. For example, Old Man Warner is outraged when he hears that the north village might give up the lottery, calling them “a pack of crazy fools. ” Even little Davie Hutchinson participates in the stoning of his own mother, unaware that something can be done to change the way things are.
Jackson is showing how a person would rather sacrifice their own family than speak up to or question authority. Rosa Park is a hero to the African American Community. She is the only black woman out of millions who had been sitting on the back of a bus for years, and actually had the guts to challenge so-called authority. The setting of the small town is the easiest way to represent society’s unwillingness to change and the stupidity of people, as a whole, refusing to question something that has been going on since Day One. The town square is where the citizens of the village meet every June 27 before noon dinner to conduct the lottery.
This place, the assumed center of town, the most important part of the village, is set between the Bank and the Post Office. The Post Office symbolizes government and the Bank represents money. This leads the in-depth reader to question today’s society: are government and money at the center of a person’s life? Are these two of the most important reasons people refuse to change? By using the last name “Delacroix” (French for “of the cross”), Jackson symbolizes religion as well. The youngest Delacroix, Dickie, made a huge pile of stones in the corner just before the lottery began.
Jackson is trying to slyly show the reader that religion is hypocritical and for the conformist. How many Christians (people of God, the “Father”) only attend mass on Christmas and Easter, to attend weddings and funerals? When these so-called religious people are in trouble, they pray to God (selfishly enough) to help them, but they are the first to stereotype a Muslim or a Jew. (Aren’t people of the followers of these religions the children of God as well? ) Hence, the pile of stones made by little Dickie Of-the-cross, ready to be thrown.
To continue with the symbolism of the surnames Jackson used, notice “Graves” and “Adams. ” These names might lead the reader to subconsciously think of death. (Jackson was a gothic writer and this is a gothic work. Coincidence? I think not. ) “Summers” is one of two men in town not included in the lottery drawing. This name could lead the reader to think of happiness, fun, and warmth. (Mr. Summers was probably real happy that he didn’t have to participate. ) The black box from which the numbers are pulled is also used for symbolism. Every year the townspeople talk about getting a new box, but no one ever does.
They are afraid to change something as small as an object that is part of their ritual. Also, by having Mrs. Hutchinson say “It isn’t fair! It isn’t right! ” at the end of the story, Jackson shows that no one is willing to speak up for change until something bad has happened to them and by that time, it is almost certainly too late. The story’s title, The Lottery, is very deceiving. The world lottery would make anyone think of good luck, big winnings, fortune, and happiness. Three’s and seven’s, typical lucky numbers, are used sporadically throughout the story.
For example, the 77th lottery Old Man Warner has participated in; the 3 legged stool where the black box sits; the lottery being conducted on the 27th day of June. Ironically, through surely planned, Jackson had The Lottery published on the 26th of June. She was most likely anticipating an uproar to happen the next day, June 27th, the day of the lottery, which of course it did. Readers were outraged but otherwise fascinated by this simple, short story, with such an intense meaning. One can be sure that it was quite an eye-opener to the conformist and an anthem for the non-conformist.