The short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson was written in 1948 and takes place in a small town, on the 27th of June. In this story, the lottery occurs every year, around the summer solstice. All families gather together to draw slips of paper from a black box. When reading this story, it is unclear the full premise of the lottery until near the end. The heads of households are the first to draw a piece of paper from the black box. The paper with the black dot on it indicates which family is to draw again.
Then pieces of paper for each family member are placed in the box and each family member must draw again from the black box. The paper with the black dot on it determines which of the family members is to be stoned to death, as stated in the story towards the end. There is much symbolism in this tale, from the black box used to store the papers, the papers themselves, to the wooden stool used, the time and day the lottery takes place, the names of the participants, the method for killing the chosen one, and the chosen one herself. Though the story can be construed as somewhat morbid, there is much to be learned from the story “The Lottery”.
The black box used in this story is described as being shabby and “in some places faded or stained”. There was talk of making a new black box, but no one took any action to do so. Danielle Schaub in her critical essay “Shirley Jackson’s Use of Symbols In ‘The Lottery’” says the color of the black box indicates death, mourning, and Ingrid Kouyialis – Page 2 punishment. The description of the box being stained may indicate that it was stained by blood. She also likens the black box to Pandora’s box, of which the contents are unknown, and once the box is opened, there will be disastrous results.
Also, the fact that the box was shabby, and though there was talk of making a new one yet no one did, shows people are adverse to change, feeling that could lead to negative results. Danielle Schaub also states that the pieces of paper and stool “combine the idea of death and rebirth, unexpected destructiveness and fertility”. The black dot on the paper can also represent death, or the stones used to kill the chosen one. The three-legged stool can represent the nuclear family, father, mother, and children. Or it can be representative of the holy trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Overall, the fact that Shirley Jackson describes these items in detail indicates there is greater meaning to them. The time of day and that the lottery is held every year on the 27th of June, plus the kind of day it was, also has a deeper meaning. Linda Wagner-Martin in her critical essay “The Lottery: Overview” states that “the reader is first lulled into an appreciation of the beautiful June 27th morning, when the 300 people of the village are gathering stones, positioning themselves to await the drawing”. This idyllic summer day quickly turns morbid and foreboding as the story continues.
That the lottery takes place at 10:00 in the morning in order to end at 12:00 noon shows that the community has fallen from its state of perfection at 10:00 in the morning, but by noontime, “salvation, holiness and perfection are restored”, as the sun is in its high position of perfection, as per Schaub in her critical essay. The fact that the lottery is held the 27th of June each year is Ingrid Kouyialis – Page 3 also no coincidence. June 27th marks the season of the summer solstice with all of its overtones of ancient ritual.
Though the story starts out with a festive feel on a beautiful summer day, the time and date of the lottery indicate there is more to the story than the narrator is telling. The names of some of the participants represent much, as Helen Nebeker states in her critical essay. Steve Adams, who assists Mr. Summers with the box, is indicative of Adam, the first man to be created by god. He is also the only one who states that other towns are talking of discontinuing the lottery and that in fact, some have stopped altogether. Mr.
Graves, who carries the stool and black box used in the lottery, has a name that is self-explanatory. He represents death which is the outcome of the lottery. Mrs. Delacroix is one of the women mentioned in the story. She is the one who picks up a stone she is barely able to carry to throw at Tessie Hutchinson. The name Delacroix translates into “of the cross”. Bobby Martin, who is the first to gather and stuff stones in his pocket, has the surname “Martin” which derives from a Middle English word signifying ape or monkey.
This surname may urge us to be aware of the Hairy Ape within us all, as Helen Nebeker states in her critical essay “The Lottery: Symbolic Tour de Force”. As per Nebeker, Tessie Hutchinson also has a name steeped in meaning. Her first name, Tessie is short for Theresa, which derives from the Greek word “theizein”, meaning to reap. Or if the name Tessie is short for Anastasia, it translates literally into “of the resurrection”. The name Hutchinson is reminiscent of early American Puritan heritage, where witch-hunting was a popular pastime.
In Fritz Oehlschlager’s critical Ingrid Kouyialis – Page 4 essay, “The Stoning of Mistress Hutchinson: Meaning and Context in ‘The Lottery’”, he also interprets the name of Tessie Hutchinson. He states that the name of Tessie Hutchinson links her to Anne Hutchinson, whose liberal beliefs, found to be heretical by the Puritans, resulted in her banishment from Massachusetts. By giving Tessie the surname of Hutchinson, Shirley Jackson suggests the rebellion that may lurk inside the women of her village in the story “The Lottery”.
The method used to kill Tessie Hutchinson and choosing Tessie Hutchinson as the victim also has a deeper meaning. Stoning Tessie harks back to ancient times when this was a form of execution, as stated in the Bible. That Jackson chooses a woman also refers to the times when women were executed because they were thought to be witches. Having Tessie Hutchinson be the chosen one to be stoned may also have chauvinistic overtones. The lottery is run by men, and the people to do the first drawing are respectively the heads of households, which are mostly the men.
In the story, the women also stand “by their husbands”, and Jackson “sharply distinguishes female from male authority” as Fritz Oehlschlaeger states. When Tessie objects to the initial drawing stating that it is unfair, it is her husband who reprimands her to be quiet. When Tessie is the one to draw the paper with the black dot on it, it is her husband who “forced the slip of paper out of her hand” and “held it up” for the crowd to see. Tessie’s age is also referred to in this story. The ages of her children indicate she is a middle-aged woman past her childbearing years.
By choosing her, the author of the story makes us reflect on the fact that a woman unable to bear children has less value than a woman who is in her Ingrid Kouyialis – Page 5 prime. Tessie being late to the lottery because she was too busy doing her wifely duty of washing the dishes also reminds us of the role most women were forced to embrace due to the time this short story was written (1948). Fritz Oehlschlaeger writes “Suppression of the personal is the function of the lottery, which it accomplishes primarily by causing women to submit their control of their sexuality to men of secular and priestly authority”.
When Jackson chose Tessie Hutchinson as the one to be stoned in the story “The Lottery”, women are portrayed as being second class citizens, whose must always defer to the man, are regulated to menial chores, and who, when past childbearing years, are expendable. From her description of the black box to choosing Tessie Hutchinson as the victim of the stoning, the story is fraught with meaning and interpretations which, according to Shirley Jackson during an interview, are “to shock the story’s readers with a graphic demonstration of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives”.