The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson tells an intriguing, thought-provoking and disturbing story, by using conventions of symbolism, dialogue and foreshadowing. The conventions used help bring together, emphasize and create meaning for the reader, that people blindly follow traditions that have lost meaning . Jackson has cleverly used symbolism in the short story to form a multifaceted meaning that challenges the readers to broaden their thoughts in regards to the tradition. The convention of dialogue misleads the reader at the beginning to think that the community spirit is strong but toward the end it reveals dispute and injustice.

Foreshadowing subtly and progressively gives the reader captivating clues to the unfolding event. “The Lottery” tells a fascinating story about an unrevealed village which blindly follows an annual tradition passed down from long ago. This tradition involves the whole community of about 300 people, one of which is stoned to death. Shirley Jackson has combined the convention of symbolism into ‘The Lottery’ to create a deep and more profound meaning. The black box a symbol/ icon used in the story is an old, worn, well used box. This box is an important feature of the villagers’ annual tradition.

For example, “Mr Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box”. The box is so important that the people are too frightened to renew the box in case the tradition is lost, even though the meaning has already gone. The reader infers that the colour of the box, which is black, is to allow them to easily depict the idea of death, as the colour black usually correlates with death. The black box is symbolic of a coffin as they both are a form of a box.

The black box is described in detail. “The black box grew shabbier each year, by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood colour, and in some places faded or stained” A coffin in the ground is there for many years and in that time it becomes dilapidated, this gives an impression of an end to a life, death. The dialogue leads the reader to believe there is a real sense of community spirit among everyone, people converse easily in a friendly and matter of fact manner. Even laughing and joking. Clean forgot what day it was,” she said to Mrs Delacroix, who stood next to her and they both laughed softly. “Thought my old man was out back stacking wood…. and then I looked the window…. and then I remembered it was the 27th and came a running. ” The community act and talk so casually about such a disgusting tradition because they have forgotten the meaning of why they are doing it. The continuing dialogue hints to the reader an idea that something is about to take place, it may be exciting but not unpleasant or disturbing.

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Until towards the end when the characters dialogue change from casual to disagreements, anger and unfairness, this then alerts the reader to an uneasy feeling that something is wrong all is not what is seems. A climax is about to take place, ending with desperation in Tessie’s voice. “It isn’t fair” she said. But they don’t realize what harm they are actually doing to the communities well being. The title ‘The Lottery’ foreshadows of what is to come. This convention is used to imply winning whether it is money or a material prize.

The word lottery is usually associated with winning. The story begins with the gathering together in expectation of something that will take place as the story unfolds. “a sudden hush fell on the crowd as Mr. summers cleared his throat and looked at the list. “All ready? ” he called “now, I’ll read the names…. and the men come up and take a paper out of the box. Keep the paper folded in your hand” the reader still is unaware of the winner as no hints have been aroused.

The villagers do not even know the meaning as to why they are coming up and receiving a slip to maybe be the one to die. The event is important to the villagers but no one knows why, as in the end the winner is actually not a winner but a loser. “It’s Tessie,” Mr. Summers said, his voice was hushed” this quote gives the hint that whoever is the so called winner is not such a good thing. This normal calendar event actually has no meaning it is senseless tradition carried out by the village people who have not stopped to question ‘why are we doing this’.

Shirley Jackson has effectively used narrative conventions such as symbolism, dialogue and foreshadowing to create meaning of a meaningless tradition in the short story ‘The Lottery’. Symbolism is used in the story to create a meaningful plot, dialogue was combined into the ‘the lottery’ to fool the reader into thinking the climax would be civilized and humane when it was not and foreshadowing hints to the reader the climax but keeps it unknown. ‘The Lottery’ is a captivating, sickening and unpredictable story with a clever meaning about it, telling the reader of meaningless traditions being held by a small community.

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