Term Paper: Symbolism and Sacrifices in the Lottery

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Symbolism and Sacrifices in the Lottery

Symbolism and Sacrifice in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

Since its publication in 1948, "The Lottery" has maintained a continued presence in literature, utilized in numerous classrooms (Bogert 45). However, this unexpected horror story has been met with some criticism, including groups pushing to censor it from high school literature curriculum due its violent nature (Bogert 45). Though the tale is not a pleasant one, it provides immense educational utility in a short work, including symbolism and deeper meanings throughout the story and the theme of sacrifice. In order to understand the importance of "The Lottery," it is imperative to understand its use of symbolism and notions of sacrifice.

The story presents what appears to be fairly mundane. The members of a town are gathering for an annual lottery drawing on a pleasant summer day (Jackson). It is only in the last couple paragraphs of Jackson's tale does the reader discover that the "winner" of the lottery is the town's sacrifice, subjected to stoning by the other members of the town, including one's own family members (Jackson). The darker meaning of the story is one symbolic theme of the duality of human nature (Nebeker 101). This dichotomy is present repeatedly throughout the story, with a darker side to elements of the plot.

The name of the story itself evokes a pleasant response as "the lottery" usually refers to a game of chance and luck where the prize is desirable. Jackson does not dispel this perception until the latter part of the story, where it becomes clear that "winning" the lottery is not desirable (Jackson). The lottery is not about a mere monetary prize, but symbolizes the randomness of the lottery's selection process, with chance and luck at work. Applying this symbolism to the sacrifice of the person selected by the lottery, it is evident that Jackson is viewing sacrifice as a random process.

The lottery may also refer to the Day of Atonement lottery, where two goats where brought and one was sacrificed as a sin offering to Jehovah (Cervo 184). The Day of Atonement lottery utilized a gold box, and depending on which hand removed the paper bearing the statement "For Jehovah," a certain goat was thrown down the mountain, mangled, and brutally killed (Cervo 184). This lottery shares elements of the structure of the lottery present in the Day of Atonement lottery, with a box of papers determining the person to be sacrificed and the selected person suffering a brutal death. The symbolism of "The Lottery" as the Day of Atonement lottery presents another view of sacrifice as the one used as an offering for sins. However, Jackson makes no discussion of the killing as an offering of this kind, possibly demonstrating the view that this type of sacrifice should be viewed with criticism as the reader is left horrified by the actions of the townspeople.

The names of the characters also carry symbolic meanings. Mr. Summers, who runs the lottery (Jackson), has a name that sounds pleasant, bringing the positive feelings that come with the summer. This perception is furthered by his depiction as a "jovial man" (Jackson). However, Mr. Summers also presents the duality theme that runs throughout the story. He is the one who hands someone a death sentence, which is completely contrary to the perception painted by his name and physical description.

Mr. Graves carries a fairly literal symbol. While the reader may not be aware of it when Mr. Graves is first mentioned, the story is about a tradition of death. Graves symbolize the end of all men (Nebeker 106). Graves are the markers of death and the tradition upheld in this village is the source of numerous deaths over the years of sacrifices. Additionally, the attitude of Mrs. Graves, rationalizing the result by stating that they all "took the same chance" (Jackson), demonstrates the willingness to condone the ritual of murder given the randomness of it. In other words, because everyone has the same chance of being sent to their grave, it is acceptable for the village to send someone to their death.

The story names "Dickie Delacroix" as one of the boys making "a great pile of stones" (Jackson). Delacroix is pronounced by the members of this village as "Dellacroy" (Jackson). Delacroix is French for "of the Cross," but the townspeople are mispronouncing it, which scholars interpret as a perversion of the Christian perception of crucifixion (Cervo 183). Crucifixion symbolizes religious sacrifice, another view of sacrifice present in Jackson's tale. However, Jackson is demonstrating an anti-Christian theme, with the Christian concept of martyrdom being soiled. While Christ suffered and died for the good of humanity, the woman sacrificed here was unwilling to die and killed for the sake of tradition.

An alternative interpretation of religious sacrifice posited by some scholars is that "The Lottery" carries symbolism related to Islam (Al-Joulan 29). In particular, Al-Joulan points to the significance of the twenty-seventh of the month in Islamic culture, the use of stoning in Islamic law, and the sacrifice of a woman (Al-Joulan 29). The lottery takes place on June 27th each year and the twenty-seventh is significant because it is the day the prophet Muhammad went to the heavens (Al-Joulan 36). Stoning is used for purposes of punishment as well as for religious sacrifice symbolizing the stoning of Satan (Al-Joulan 33). The use of woman indicates the lower status of women in Muslim society (Al-Joulan 34).

The symbols in "The Lottery" may be interpreted as a view of sacrifice in the context of Islam. The date coinciding with the date Muhammad went to the heavens links with the death of a member of the village, or that person going to the heavens. The use of stoning not for punishment links with the use of stoning to metaphorically symbolize Satan through a sacrifice. The sacrifice of Mrs. Hutchinson and not her husband links with women holding second place to men in Islamic culture.

The sacrifice of Mrs. Hutchinson, a woman, is also important outside of the context of Islamic symbolism. It is symbolic of popular notions of sacrifice. For example, the common notion of sacrificing a virgin generally entails sacrificing a woman. While Mrs. Hutchinson is not likely a virgin, the use of a woman in this context is not extraordinary.

Mr. Clyde Dunbar also symbolizes a popular notion of sacrifice. Mr. Dunbar remains at home because he broke his leg and, in his place, his wife draws at the lottery (Jackson). A person that has an injury does not participate in the lottery, symbolizing the purity of a sacrifice. Just like the sacrificial virgin, the thing to be sacrificed should not have been soiled. Mr. Dunbar, with his broken leg (Jackson), would not be fit to be a sacrifice under this symbolic view of the ritual.

The process of the lottery is a tradition in this village (Jackson) and this tradition is symbolic of numerous other traditions that may be followed for a purpose unbeknownst to the participants. The purpose may no longer be in existence and, thus, the tradition should logically be ceased, but it prevails. A black box is used in the lottery, but it is no longer the original box and this one has become worn out (Jackson). The black box is one indication of the symbolism of worn out tradition. Jackson may be commenting on the need to remove purposeless traditions, such as ritual killings that are now just cruel (Nebeker, 107).

Jackson provides some hope for those that would like to see cruel traditions extinguished with the character of Mrs. Dunbar. Mrs. Dunbar demonstrates additional anxiety in the drawing, unwillingness to select large rocks for the stoning, and hesitancy in chasing after Mrs. Hutchinson (Jackson). One scholar interprets this as Mrs. Dunbar,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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