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Shirley Jackson was an author in the 20th century known for writing stories that explored the twisted events of everyday life in society. In her well-known short story, "The Lottery", she explores the incongruities by giving the story a theme so barbaric and brutal that it compares and contrasts between her parallel universe and actual society. For this reason, many of the readers of the story were confused and appalled by the overall concept of what the theme of "The Lottery" was trying to portray. Lenemaja Friedman, in her critical biography of Shirley Jackson, wrote that, "a flood of mail-hundreds of letters-deluged both the editorial offices in New York and the post offices in Bennington," and that, "no New Yorker story had ever received such a response" (191). The unique parallelism used to compare and contrast her parallel universe and actual reality gathered many negative responses from critics and even friends. Throughout her short story, "The Lottery," Shirley Jackson uses symbolism, allegory, and setting as literary elements to convey the overall theme.
In her short story, "The Lottery", Shirley Jackson used many symbols within the story, but there are three symbols that are main contributors to the overall theme. The story's title itself is a symbol of irony. In today's society, people view a lottery as a drawing of luck that if won could come with a prize, such as money, that for some people is worth the desire. Unlike today's perspective of the lottery, Jackson's version of the lottery is more of a sacrificial ritual, like rituals of the past when the Aztecs would sacrifice a person to their gods in return for rain and fertile crops from "the vegetation god"(Friedman 191). So in contrast, the lottery and traditions of the town relates to that of the time when barbaric, cave man roamed this world, something that is seen as uncivilized in today's society. It is apparent that the affect of the lottery on the townspeople makes them cruel and brutal. Another symbol is the names of the characters, how the actions of the characters contrast with their name, or even just understanding the underlying meaning beneath the name. Mr. Summers's name seems to imply happiness, joyfulness, and other positive words that are associated the season of summer, but his name instead "emphasizes the surface tone of the [story] and underscores the ultimate irony" (Friedman 191). Another ironic character is Mrs. Delacroix. The name Delacroix means "of the Cross" in French, but the villagers pronounced the name "Dellacroy". "The mispronunciation signals the villagers' botching of the traditional Christian understating of the Crucifixion" (Cervo 208). The irony of Mrs. Delacroix is that her name suggests that she is one of Christianity, but there is nothing Christian about the barbaric tradition she participates in by selecting a scapegoat to bear the sins of others. Mr. Graves, as his name implies is seen by the townspeople to be the digger of their graves. There is also Mrs. Hutchinson, who name also has a unique meaning to her name. In Jay A. Yarmove's essay "Jackson's 'The Lottery,' " he states that there is "allegorical force" in Mrs. Hutchinson's name, which can be compared to Anne Hutchinson of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638. As historians have recorded, Anne Hutchinson was exiled from the colony "because of her religious beliefs" and had to move to Rhode Island to where she founded a church. Like Anne Hutchinson, Mrs. Hutchinson, unwillingly, "died for her beliefs" (Yarmove 234). The characters and their names in "The Lottery" show how the community was blinded by their tradition from realizing how uncivil and unnecessary the lottery can be. The final symbol within the story that helps give the reader a sense of the overall theme is the black box. The black box can be interpreted by the reader to have two meanings, tradition and the forthcoming of death. The black box, which is used in the town's lottery to draw from, seems to "[grow] shabbier each year" and was "made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it" (Jackson 141). The black box, seen by its physical features, has been past down from generation to generation. This instrument of tradition shows how the origin of the lottery was made by "the dead hand of the past" to codified their religion and morals, which is passed down from generation to generation, "letting [the lottery] grow ever more cumbersome, meaningless, and indefensible" (Nebeker 189). The color of the box, black, has always had the same interpretation throughout history, death or tragedy. The readers can only guess that the use of the black box can only mean this is no ordinary lottery, that maybe there is something twisted and evil about the ritual occurring in the story. The color black foreshadows a death or an evil event. The perception of the lottery, the black box, and the underlying meaning of the characters names all contribute to the main theme of Jackson's "The Lottery".
Jackson's "The Lottery" takes place in the summer in a small village. The exact date of the lottery is June 27 but the year is not ever specified. But by using key clues within the story, such as a population of three hundred and a farming village, it can probably be concluded that all signs "seem to point to New England as the locale of the story" (Yarmove 234). If this is the case, New England colonist were known for their strong beliefs in their religions and for willing to do anything to protect their customs from outsiders. The setting of the story does probably help explain why the sacrificial ritual is happening. In the summer droughts occur, and especially if the village is located in New England, then there soil is not fertile without the enrichment of the rain. The plot of "The Lottery" has a sense of uneasiness to it, because as the story goes on things become more and more abnormal about the lottery taking place in the community. The lottery, usually portrayed "as a joyous occasion", is what the town's people are gathering around for in the square (Friedman 191).As the story goes on, the reader begins to listen to the conversations happening between the people of the village, and begins to wonder why this lottery is so different. Unsettledness in the voices of the townspeople and hesitation of participating in the lottery shows that this lottery may not have a positive outcome for the "lucky" winner. The setting and plot of "The Lottery" help contribute to the overall theme by giving the reader a sense of normality at the beginning of the story, and throwing a sudden twist into the minds of the readers at the very end of the short story.
Jackson's unique point of view in "The Lottery" gives the reader a better understanding of the overall theme. She uses third- person dramatic point of view to help the reader interpret every person's emotions towards the lottery. At the beginning of the story the reader seems to grasp the idea that the town "[has] a holiday atmosphere" by using this point of view (Friedman 191). Using third-person dramatic point of view keeps a neutral position in the story, not allowing it to become biased toward one person's thoughts and feelings. Jackson uses this point of view to her advantage to keep the reader anticipating the outcome of the story. Through the story the reader is kept from fully understanding why the community is holding this annual event. It isn't until the end of the story that the reader can put all the information gathered from the point of view to realize that a barbaric tradition is taking place. Jackson effectively uses third-person dramatic to blind the reader from truly expecting the evil outcome of her story.
It's very evident that Jackson uses symbolism, setting, and point of view, to help convey the theme of her short story "The Lottery". Through analyzing of different symbols, such as the lottery, the black box, and the character's names, we can conclude that these symbols each show that no matter how barbaric tradition can be, it will continue on when beliefs are strong. Jackson's setting and plot show the hidden meaning behind holding the lottery, which is to give to their gods a scapegoat through sacrifice for rain and bountiful crops in return. The point of view influenced how the reader navigates their way through interpreting the story. Throughout time "The Lottery" has encountered many negative responses about the inhumanity and brutality of the story, but even through all of the criticism the short story is now adopted as an American literature classic.