A bit of everything.
Symbolism in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery
The Lottery revolves around a small town in America, with an approximate population of 300 people. The setting of the story is in the center of the village, where the much-awaited annual event called lottery, takes place. The reader is acquainted with the usual environment every time the lottery happens. However, the nature of lottery is revealed only near the end of the story – that the prize is getting the chance to be stoned by the villagers, including your own children.
The names of the characters suggest another meaning aside from its usage as means of identification for a particular villager. The names of the three boys at the beginning of the story are reflective of their roles. Bobby, from the more popular Robert, means bright fame. Harry is a variety of Henry (home ruler), and also a diminutive of Harold (chief of the army). Dickie is a derivative of Richard, which means strong king, and his surname Delacroix means of the cross. The names justified their actions in the story being the “kings” and “high-ranking warriors” who guard the pile of stones they made from the raiding of other boys.
Mr Summers could represent the time of the year – that is, summer – when most of the activities in any village happen. This could be tied up with the personality of the man himself who had time and energy to devote to civic activities. The term summer connotes the prevalence of the sun or heat, which is connected to the production and usage of coal, which is the major item in his business. His name Joe is a diminutive of Joseph that means God shall give, which seems to adhere to his role in the lottery as the one who holds the box and acts as God who “gives” permission for the death of one of the villagers by announcing the name of the “winner” and signaling the start of the stoning in his statement “Let’s finish this quickly.”
The name of Mr Graves is a representation of the end of journey of everyone who participates in the lottery, keeping true to his name by helping Mr Summers in the making of the slips of papers to be drawn. Mr Martin has the name equivalent to of Mars, which goes down to being red as with the planet, and also blood. This is true to his action of holding the box when Mr Summers was stirring the papers inside the box. His name is also connected to Steve Adams, which means crown of the man on the red earth. Mr Adams seems to like also the idea of the lottery since he was standing in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him, getting ready to stone the “winner.”
Warner, the oldest villager, has his name connected to being the one who warns the village from bad things. His thought against the giving up of the lottery is obvious from his statements, “Pack of crazy fools… Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them…” His seventy-seven years in the lottery could have provided him enough courage of not drawing the dotted paper. His shared prophecies of “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon,” speaks of his position in the village as a respected elder, a class he shared with the elders of ancient villages, wherein they were the source of wisdom and pieces of advice for communal concerns and issues like war and marriage.
The name Jack means successor. This is a direct translation of the role of the boy in the story in which he succeeded as the head of the Watson family after his father’s death. The name Clyde could be equated with Claude, which means lame, true to his state during the lottery – he had a broken leg.
The name of Tessie could be derived from testy that means irritable. This is apparent from her reaction of continuous yelling of “It wasn’t fair…” when her family got the “prize” in the lottery because she believed her husband did not get enough time to choose. Her name is also a diminutive of Theresa, which means one who reaps, a direct translation of the events that happened at the end of the story in which she reaped all the stones from the villagers for being the “winner” of the lottery.
It seems that the author built her characters in association with their names to provide a double emphasis on the importance of that character in her story. It might have been that the characterization came first, and then she thought of their names afterwards. The connection of the role and the name of the character provided excitement and enthusiasm for the readers to go on with reading the story.
The black box also represents some things other than its primary purpose in the lottery. She could have colored it brown or green or any other color, but she made it black to relay the message that the event was actually evil. The shabby condition of the box also represents the tradition slowly fading in practice but there is still the willingness of the villager to continue with it. Even if the lottery was not already appropriate for their times, as they had already bank, school, and other establishments that signify civilization, they could not give up their ritual. This is shown in the failure of the villagers to change the box because it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.
It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal company office. All the important works were done by Mr Summers – the marking of the black spot, and providing the location for the marking. This reflects that the “demon god” was in the coal company office, and nobody works in there but Mr Summers.
The village operated with amenities from a capitalist society – bank, post office, coal business, grocery store, school, and residences. The highest status in the village belongs to Mr Summers who owns the coal business, Mr Graves who is the postmaster, and Mr Martin who owns the grocery store. They were the ones also who did the first-hand jobs for the event, that is, the preparation of the slips of paper to be drawn, the handling of the box during the lottery proper, and the announcement of the “winner”.
Their god-like actions were also justified with their direct management of the determinants of the future of the society – coal business, post office, and the grocery store. Their participation in the lottery is just part of their deception to the villagers. They wanted them to think that they are just like them, especially Mr Summers, having to work hard throughout the year to have zero chance of being drawn in the lottery. The village believed that by working so hard, they would get immunity from the lottery.
The statement “…guess we better get started, get this over with, so’s we can go back to work…” of Mr Summers does not really speak of a statement coming from a gentleman. He could have been thinking for the villagers to go back to what they are doing in his coal business, work hard, and might be not to mind the salary they are receiving as they are adhered to the principles of the lottery.
It is also patriarchal in its nature since the women, wearing faded house dresses and sweaters, came shortly after their menfolk. This means that the men gathered first, and no women went before them. It seems that men got all the privileges, which is apparent from their conversations about planting and rain, tractors and taxes. The women were just plain housewives, and not teachers or writers or non-professionals for that matter.
“Here comes your Missus, Hutchinson…” proved also that they are living in a society dominated by men. Tessie was not recognized as an individual but being an “attached” wife of Bill. She might not have been recognized if she was not married and living all by herself.
Its men-first system is also evident from the angle of the Watsons. Jack drew for the family, instead of his mother, in place for his dead father. This is also true for the Dunbars. Janey could have not been allowed to draw for his husband Clyde if their son, Horace, was already at the right age that time.
The most important message of the story could be to teach men about reality. It could be that the author has desired to tell the world not to go into something if it could not stand or bear the consequences. This might be her way to teach us to stand firmly on our decisions, that we should continue on and finish what we have started.
This philosophy was shown with how Mrs Hutchinson reacted when she got the paper with the black dot. When the drawing of the papers was not yet started, she was smiling and greeting all the people in the area. She was even joking with the “god” Mr Summers. She did even push her husband to go up into the location of the black box and get papers for them. However, when Bill got the paper with the black dot, she commenced on shouting that “It wasn’t fair” to Mr Summers. This is a reflection of how she advocated for the evilness of the ritual at first, but eventually tearing it down when it became personal.
The statement “It wasn’t right” of Mrs Hutchinson could also be her realization at the end that it really is not fair and not right to kill a person that easily and in that manner. It could also be for the fact that someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles. She was protesting for her own child to stone her.
Being one of the most widely-banned stories, The Lottery is often the subject of literary discussions and debates, including studies related to symbolism. Containing many symbolized objects and events, it has attracted many people to see its deeper meaning, which continuously mystified people from all walks of life.
Kosenko, P. 1984. A Reading of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. Retrieved 04 July 2007. http://www.netwood.net/
Landau, SI. 1997. Given Names. Webster’s Concise Dictionary of the English Language. USA: Trident Press International.
Nebeker, HE. 1974. “The Lottery: Symbolic Tour de Force.” American Literature 46(1):100-107.
The Lottery revolves around a small town in America, with an approximate population of 300 people. The setting of the story is in the center of the village, where the much-awaited annual event called lottery, takes place. The reader is acquainted with the usual environment every time the lottery happens. However, the nature of lottery…