The Lottery | Study Guide

Shirley Jackson

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the symbols in Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery.

The Lottery | Symbols



The townspeople's resistance to modernity and change shows in their longtime use of stones. Both a building block and a weapon, stones are a part of nature, revealing the town's loyalty to ancient rites and their deep-knit ties to the land.

By allowing the children to gather stones for the execution, the villagers include the children in the ritual of the lottery, ensuring that the rite will be passed down to the next generation.

Black Box

The black box represents the many years that the lottery has taken place in the village, and the villagers' connections to their ancestors. Black, of course, is a familiar symbol for darkness, evil, and death. This black box holds the villagers' dark secrets and also points to the meaninglessness of the ritual of the lottery. Shabby, splintered, and faded, it is made up from pieces of the original box. The box also has overtones of racial purity masquerading as Christianity. It requires the support of a three-legged stool—the "three-legged stool of Christianity" is the biblical emphasis on love, trust, and obedience—to keep it from falling.


The concept of a family whose curse affects each member is common in literature. The Hutchinsons—whose name, in an example of verbal irony, evokes that of colonial American religious leader Anne Hutchinson, a vocal critic of the Puritans—are under such a curse from the moment their name is selected in the lottery's first round. Lots are drawn by household. The traditional, patriarchal family unit, with the father at the head, symbolizes authority and hierarchy in the town. The residents' fate is determined by their family name, rather than any actions they take as individuals.

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