An In-Depth Fiction Analysis of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

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Carnegie Mellon University
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The Lottery is one of the most fascinating narratives by Shirley Jackson. The book was written in the year 1948. The story was published on 26th June 1948, just a few months after its authorship. Jackson provides a comprehensive description of an annual festival carried out on the morning of 27th June 1948 known as The Lottery. This festival commanded respect among large and small communities throughout the United States and was observed by each and every member of the community. However, the reception of the entire story met mixed reactions from different people and organizations.

For instance, The South African Union decided to ban the entire story as some readers cancelled their subscriptions and sent negative responses to the author. However, many researchers later rated The Lottery as one of the most popular and well-known stories in the history of American literature due to its outstanding use of literary and stylistic devices to present critical themes applicable in the contemporary world (Jackson 100-102). This report analyses the main theme of the story, explores the authors dominant use of symbolism and presents a literally analysis of the entire story.

Critical Analysis of the Main Theme

Blind loyalty and its negative impacts on the society is the main theme explored by Jackson in The Lottery. Jackson confirms that the annual village lottery culminated in a ferocious murder on a yearly basis. The Lottery demonstrates adverse effects associated with some forms of traditions when followed without rational questioning or inquiry. For instance, it is ironical to see the villagers allowing Old Man Warner, a rather tragic man to lead them in celebrating a festival that they did not have a proper understanding of its origin. As a result, children are encouraged to gather a lot of stones in the town square without prior understanding of the dangers associated with their actions.

Tradition appears to be endemic to different small towns in America when used as a way of linking families and passing critical ritual practices from one generation to another. Jackson continues to criticise the blind loyalty that the villagers have for traditional practices and rituals. She disparages the fact that the villagers do not understand the origin of the lottery but continue to preserve and pass it from one generation to another (103-105). The villagers' blind loyalty and acceptance of the annual lottery festivals have facilitated the ritual killing of innocent people to become a custom in the town's beliefs and practices.

Despite the fact that there is no law or anyone forcing the villagers to change their illegal practice, they feel powerless to adopt change. Ironically, Warner, the old man, is so faithful and obedient to the lottery and fears that the villagers would adopt the primitive times upon the abolishment of the lottery. As a result, the villagers end up killing Tessie who tries to resist the unfairness of the lottery. Surprisingly, most of the ordinary villagers have no valid reason for committing this murder other than respecting the illegal tradition of killing someone annually as a way of adhering to the call of the lottery.

Analysis of Jacksons use of Symbolism in The Lottery

Symbolism is one of the most common stylistic devices used by Jackson to draw the attention of her readers. Symbolism in the story appears through the use of the black box and the lottery itself. For instance, Jackson uses the black box as a representation of the pottery tradition and the blind loyalty displayed by the villagers. The villagers are unwilling to replace the black box despite the fact that it is almost becoming disintegrated with continuous loss of its original color. The villagers base their strong attachment to the worn out black box to an ancient story which claimed that it was made from unique pieces of another older box. The entire story is full of comparable residues from the past.

According to Jackson most of these relics including the black box, the use of stones and the continuous creation of family lists have been passed from one generation to another since the historical origin of the American communities. These three components among other remnants are part of the tradition, from which no member of the contemporary society wants to avoid. The lottery must be conducted in this particular way since this is how it has always been carried out since its historical origin. However, there are some notable lottery traditional practices that seem to have been forgotten or changed over a considerable period. For instance, contemporary villagers in the story are seen using paper slips as opposed to the traditional use of wood chips.

As such, it is irrational for the villagers to demonstrate a high level of sustained loyalty to the black box while neglecting other critical traditional practices. The villager's negligence of some tradition such as wood chips should propel them to disregard the lottery festival as it a rational implication in their community. However, Jackson uses the lottery as a form of symbolism to advance his motifs. The lottery is a direct representation of an impression, behavior, or act passed and inherited by one generation to another. These actions, behaviors, and ideas are accepted freely by the community members without any prior questioning despite its negative consequences to the society.

According to Jackson, the lottery has been an ordinary norm taking place in their village over a long period of time. It is universally understood as a common tradition and an annual festival that no individual member of the community has attempted to neither question nor doubt it (110-112). Most of the villagers express their exclusive loyalty to the loyalty despite a plethora of changes that have affected its occurrence over the years. Therefore, the lottery continues without any form of logical reasoning towards its significance.

Literally Analysis

The Lottery is one of the most interesting stories to read. Jackson's use of symbolism is striking and attractive. Nevertheless, the author explores the issue of blind loyalty and its overall impact in a community in such a professional and competent manner that leaves her readers wondering. The story culminates in a shocking incidence as Tessie loses her identity as a popular housewife by drawing a market slip of paper from the box. As a result, Tessie is stoned to death under the leadership of her friends and family members. It is evident that Jackson succeeds to create this fiction dilemma to advance her motifs for writing the story.

In this case, Tessie's murder is a practical example of how innocent people are prosecuted in their societies for ridiculous reasons. Tessie's death resembles a lot of murder incidences and cases frequently reported in the contemporary society (114-117). In practical life, many people are killed due to their ethical and logical positions, racial, sex, religious, economic, political, and cultural differences. In most cases, these individuals are killed because of a certain trait that may be out of their control. Nevertheless most of these judicial killings occur without sufficient investigations of their alleged mistakes as seen in The Lottery. As Jackson proposes, any such oppression and murder is always random. This randomness explains why Tessie has to die for her innocence. This weird practice needs to be cautioned by individuals who can reason creatively and critically while trying to express their rationality in safeguarding the rights of innocent citizens (118-120).


Jackson demonstrates an outstanding use of symbolism and emphasizes on blind loyalty alongside its impacts as the main theme of her story. The biggest negative impact associated with blind loyalty in the annual lottery is the rapid increase in the randomness of prosecution. Villagers have resolved into the random prosecution of innocent citizens as a result of drawing wrong paper slips from the black box as opposed to any form of transgression. The lottery is designed in an elaborate manner that puts all participants at risk of death including young children. As a result, each festival conducted on annual basis sees a person killed without any critical reason. Tessie loses her identity as a popular house when she selects a marked slip of paper from the black box and consequently stoned to death. Her death portrays the dominance of innocent judicial killings in the contemporary world.

Work Cited

Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 2008. Print.

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