Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is a narrative about a strange village trapped in a cycle of always following tradition, even when it isn't in their best interests. Symbols that relate to the broader subject are used throughout the novel by Jackson. This aids the reader in comprehending her core message. Jackson conveys a message to her audience using location, tone, and symbolism. Using old man Warner and the black box as examples, she makes major links to the theme.
In "The Lottery," the location and tone are critical elements that offer the reader a sense of place and a general sense of what the story should be like. Jackson begins by explaining the setting of her novel in great detail. "On June 27th, the morning was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full summer day," she says (250). Imagining this transport, the reader to a warm and inviting environment. It's the first day of summer, and everything is gearing up for a fresh start. This is deceptive because Jackson provides the impression that this is a normal town where people go about their daily lives as they would in any other town. However, this is not the case as it is eventually revealed that the lottery winner is stoned to death, rather than a new beginning. When the reader knows what the lottery's true purpose is, the tone of the novel immediately shifts. This village has a mysterious and strange quality to it that leaves the reader with many questions about why it is the way it is and how it came to be. As the town's oldest man, Old Man Warner can relate to this. In this strange ritual that the villagers participate in, he represents the tradition.
As one of the principal symbols in Jackson's narrative "The Lottery," old man Warner is important. Mr. Warner is the town's oldest resident and has won seventy-seven lotteries. He is the embodiment of his town's lottery heritage. Other towns have discontinued hosting lotteries, according to the younger generations in town. He considers them a "pack of insane fools" (254) for trying to end the lottery. He feels that if the custom is abandoned, "they'll want to go back to living in caves" (254). Mr. Warner believes that the lottery is the only thing that keeps society together. As a superstitious man, he believes that sacrificing a human being is the only reasonable way to ensure that their crops are healthy, as seen by the words "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon" (254).
Mr. Warner accepts the current state of affairs because it has always been that way. Changing tradition, in his opinion, would be devastating. The black box is another important symbol in "The Lottery." The black box, unlike old man Warner, indicates the absence of tradition. This is due to the fact that the box itself has not been passed down the generations, only the thoughts and rituals have. Only a few fragments of the original box have survived. Initially, the locals used wood chips instead of paper in the lottery. The lottery's minute nuances have been lost over the years, leaving only the lottery's primary aim. The villagers blindly follow a routine that has lost much of its tradition, and they only hold lotteries because they have always done so.
The central premise of this short story is that following tradition blindly can be quite dangerous. The odd ritual of murdering innocent people just because tradition says so demonstrates this to the reader. The village has become so engrossed in this custom that they are oblivious to the harm it is causing to their society. Old man Warner is a wonderful example of this, because he sees nothing wrong with the lottery's tradition. He is so devoted to the custom that he feels that if the town stops having lotteries, it would revert to a much more primitive state. This is odd because their practise has been passed down through the generations, and the idea of human sacrifice for crop prosperity is a pretty basic way of thinking.
Mr. Warner is unconcerned about this custom and would readily murder someone just because the lottery tradition provides him with all the reason he requires. The black box is similarly related to this because it appears to carry traditional values, but it actually does not. Years of use have worn down the box, which is only made up of a fragment of the original black box. The locals' devotion to the box is based solely on rumours that it is created from bits of the old one. This demonstrates how the villagers blindly follow tradition just because it has always been done in this manner.
The reader can easily see how Jackson employs setting, tone, and symbols to create a really interesting plot throughout the story. "The Lottery" has a totally distinct setting and tone than most. She deceives the reader into believing that the individuals she describes in the town and village are ordinary, when this is not the case. When the reader learns about the strange ritual that this community follows, the tone of the novel shifts dramatically. In this story, there are two key symbols: old man Warner and the black box. With Mr. Warner refusing to discontinue the lottery and the black box being nothing more than a symbol, both of these symbols give the reader a sense of tradition. Jackson leaves her listeners with a powerful message that can be applicable to any society and period of time.
Author: Jack Samule
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