The Color Black and Symbolism in “The Lottery” People are influenced by a variety of different sources – their parents, their friends, and their communities. While everyone must learn to make their own decisions, they often follow the beliefs of the people around them. Teenagers register to vote as a “Democrat” merely because their parents call themselves Democrats. Sometimes blindly following another’s influence can result in something much more severe, such as becoming a slave owner due to the influence of the surrounding society.
Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery” uses the color black to symbolize how irrationally adhering to a tradition when its origin is neither remembered nor understood can result in people performing ignorant actions. The Lottery is an age old practice for a small town that is conducted by a man named Mr. Summers. Unlike his cheery name suggests, Mr. Summers works in the coal industry and thus brings our first example of the color black in the story.
Coal naturally rubs off its native color when it touches virtually anything with a shade so dark that the comparison “black as coal” is never questioned.
Mr. Summers was in charge of ensuring that the tradition of holding a yearly lottery remained in place, no matter what the cost. Therefore his influence in the town aided the continuance of this practice although no one really understands its original purpose. The next black symbol mentioned in “The Lottery” is the famed black box. This item is mentioned the most of any black item in the entire story, thus enhancing its importance. This box is a replacement of the original box that was lost many years ago. However, even the box that they now use is older than anyone in the village.
Although the box is practically falling apart, Mr. Summers cannot gather support to have a new one made because the members of the town were afraid to tamper with tradition. Once again these poor people are blindly following the ways of the generations before them. It is also mentioned that the paint on the black box is starting to chip away and show the true color of the wood. This could be the box saying that it is time for this tradition to fade away just as the box certainly is. The box is unstable and must be held together for the presentation of the Lottery. How odd it is that Mr.
Summers chooses to rest his hand so nonchalantly on such a raggedy old box that held the doom for a member of the town’s own. Next, the story mentions how in the dark of night before the Lottery, Mr. Summers and another member of the town made up the slips of paper at Mr. Summers’ coal company. This would prove to be an important detail later in the story. These slips of paper were then placed in a dark, secure safe for the process to begin the next morning, although the particular location of the box the rest of the year was must less important to the townspeople. It is quite interesting that Mr.
Summers is wearing a clean white shirt on the day of the Lottery. This contradicts his role in the story and may be his way of presenting this process as a pure tradition that requires no change. However, it does contrast the black box greatly, making it stand out even more. Maybe Mr. Summers is trying especially hard to have the people of this village overlook the evil that the Lottery really is just as he is covering up the fact that he works with coal and may have black hash all over his clothes most other days. Another key symbol in the story is the black spot on the piece of paper selected by the victim.
This spot symbolizes the darkness of death. The person who finds this slip of paper is sentenced to be stoned at that very moment. How alone in a dark corner the person must feel when he finds himself in the middle of a pack of people getting ready to stone him, including members of his very own family. There are several statements in the story that clearly indicate how the townsfolk have forgotten many of the original aspects of The Lottery. First of all, the original black box had been lost long ago carrying with it the primary rationale for the Lottery itself.
The author also mentions how “so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded” and, because of this, Mr. Summers was successful in changing the pieces of wood over to slips of paper. The people had also forgotten how the Lottery used to be introduced by a recital as well as the salute that occurred prior to the drawing itself. “The Lottery” also mentions how the town people continued to use stones despite their lack of understanding of the tradition itself. “The Lottery” provides a distinct argument against following a tradition without understanding its true purpose.
The story makes it clear that even the oldest member of the town was unfamiliar with the beginning of the lottery and many of its original components, yet they still chose to hold the lottery each year, criticizing those towns which had chosen to eliminate the process altogether. The members of the town are not thinking for themselves when choosing to support this lottery but rather are attending merely because it is something that is done and has always been done. The use of the color black within the story helps to symbolize the blindness of the townsfolk toward their cruel and irrational actions.
Cite this The Color Black in “The Lottery”
The Color Black in “The Lottery”. (2016, Sep 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-color-black-in-the-lottery/