The Lottery Symbolism: Exploring Hidden Meanings in Shirley Jackson’s Classic Story

The Lottery Symbolism: Exploring Hidden Meanings in Shirley Jackson's Classic Story

In Shirley Jackson’s classic story “The Lottery,” symbolism performs a crucial role in conveying hidden meanings and offering deeper insights into the dark and enigmatic nature of human society. The blind obedience of the villagers, the stoning ritual, and the black box all hold significant symbolism that sheds light on the underlying themes of violence, tradition, and human beliefs.

The lottery that takes place every year in the village serves as the central subject of the story. The whole event, from the seemingly innocent gathering of the villagers to the resulting violence, is laden with symbols. The black box, as the physical manifestation of the lottery’s history, represents tradition and the unyielding nature of societal customs. Without questioning the purpose or origin of the lottery, the villagers blindly adhere to the ritual, following it year after year without fail.

In “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson explores the darker aspects of human nature and society through the stones used in the stoning ritual. Each stone, picked by the villagers themselves, is a symbol of their participation in the act of violence. Although they may not fully comprehend the consequences of their actions, the stones they throw represent their willingness to harm their fellow villagers, even the youngest and most vulnerable among them.

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Another symbol that resonates throughout the story is the three-legged stool supporting the black box. This stool represents the stability and order that the lottery brings to the community. It signifies the sacrifices made by the villagers in maintaining the tradition, reinforcing its importance in their lives.

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” delves into the rituals and beliefs of a small village. The characters and setting reflect a traditional, close-knit community where everyone knows each other. The women chat “between the trees” while the men stand solemnly, reflecting the gender roles and hierarchy within the society. The lottery is a form of control, binding the community together through fear and violence.

Moreover, the stones themselves symbolize the villagers’ collective beliefs and rituals. The act of stoning is deeply ingrained in their culture, and it represents their strong conviction in the power of sacrifice and violence to ensure a bountiful harvest or deliverance from calamity. The symbolism in “The Lottery” explores the dark nature of human society and the lengths to which people are willing to go to maintain order and traditional beliefs.

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The Black Box

The black box is where the stones are kept, which are used for stoning the lottery winner. It is a chilling reminder of the violence and brutality that lies at the heart of the lottery’s traditional and seemingly harmless nature. The black box, although it’s an inanimate object, fully supports and upholds the annual lottery, perpetuating the cycle of violence in the name of tradition.

The black box is kept in a prominent place in the town square, where everyone can see it. This serves as a reminder to the villagers that they are all subject to the lottery and its potentially deadly consequences. The box’s presence implies that no one is safe, and the randomness of the selection process contributes to the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that pervades the story.

Throughout the story, characters interact with the black box in different ways. Old Man Warner, for example, praises the black box and defends the lottery, stating, “Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.'” This showcases the deep-rooted belief in the lottery and its connection to the town’s prosperity.

On the other hand, some characters, like Mrs. Delacroix, seem to have a sense of resignation and acceptance when they draw their papers from the black box. This suggests that they have internalized the belief that the lottery is just a part of their lives and must be followed, regardless of the consequences.

The black box represents a form of social control, as the town’s residents keep using it without questioning its purpose or the violence it brings. The box becomes a symbol of the villagers’ willingness to turn a blind eye to the suffering and sacrifice caused by the lottery. It reveals the power of tradition over critical thinking and individual agency.

Shirley Jackson’s use of the black box as a symbol highlights the dangers of blindly following traditions and rituals. The black box demonstrates how seemingly harmless symbols and objects can mask dark and twisted practices. It serves as a reminder for readers to question and challenge deeply ingrained societal norms and beliefs.

The Stones

The black stones represent the violent and brutal nature of the lottery, as they are the instruments used to execute the chosen villager. Each year, the lottery culminates in a stoning, where the selected person is attacked by the whole village using these stones. The stones symbolize the blind obedience to tradition and the villagers’ willingness to commit acts of violence in the name of their beliefs.

The stones hold a powerful symbolism because they are an integral part of the lottery’s tradition. They were used long before the villagers can remember, and no one questions their use anymore. Just like the lottery itself, the stones have become an unquestioned custom, and their presence supports the idea of blindly following rituals without questioning their purpose or significance.

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Furthermore, the stones are directly linked to specific characters in the story. Tessie Hutchinson, the youngest woman in the village, draws the marked paper and becomes the target of the stoning. During the event, even her closest friend, Mrs. Delacroix, picks up a stone and throws it at her. This symbolizes the betrayal and savagery that can arise in the name of traditions.

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The stones also represent the powerlessness of the individuals against the collective will. Every household in the village is required to participate in the lottery, and each member of the family is expected to take a turn drawing. The stones, as a result, become the embodiment of this collective power, as they are held and thrown by the villagers as a whole.

In addition to their symbolic significance, the stones also hold a practical purpose within the story. They are used to select the “winner” and mark individual households. Once a person holds the marked paper, their fate is sealed, and they become the target of the stoning. Thus, the stones act as a neutral tool in the lottery, ensuring fairness and impartiality in selecting the victim.

Overall, the stones in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” possess a dual nature, both as symbols and tools. They symbolize the violent and unforgiving nature of the lottery ritual, while also serving as a practical instrument for carrying out the tradition. Through this symbolism, Jackson highlights the dark side of human nature and the dangers of blindly following harmful rituals.

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The Three-Legged Stool

Although the stool is not a central figure in the story, it plays an important role in highlighting the violence and blind adherence to tradition. The characters gather around the stool as the lottery takes place, each selecting a slip of paper. Those who draw a paper with a black dot are then subjected to a stoning ritual. The stool symbolizes the support and stability of the lottery and acts as a reminder of the consequences that come with blindly following tradition.

The Symbolism of the Three-Legged Stool

The three-legged stool represents the rigidity and unyielding nature of the lottery. Just as the stool cannot stand without all three legs, the lottery cannot proceed without the participation of all the villagers. The youngest members of the community are also required to take part in the drawing of papers, symbolizing how the violence of the lottery is passed down through generations.

In addition, the stool can also symbolize the women in the story. Mrs. Delacroix, for example, is seen sitting on the stool after drawing a paper with a black dot. This suggests that the women in the community bear the burden of the lottery’s violence, as they are the ones who ultimately become the victims. The stool serves as a visual representation of their support for the tradition, even though it brings harm upon them.

Overall, the three-legged stool in “The Lottery” is a symbol of the blind adherence to tradition and the violence that comes with it. It highlights the way in which symbols can be used to represent deeper meanings in a story, and how they can be used to explore the darker aspects of human nature.

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Three-Legged StoolBlind adherence to tradition and the violence of the lottery

Symbolism in “The Lottery”

One of the most significant symbols in the story is the black box, which represents the long-standing tradition of the lottery. The box itself is old and worn, symbolizing the rituals that have been passed down from generation to generation. The black color also suggests darkness and inherent evil, foreshadowing the violence that will take place later.

Another symbol is the three-legged stool, on which the black box is placed. The stool represents the stability and order that the lottery brings to the town. It is a symbol of support for the tradition, as it physically holds the box that contains the fate of the villagers.

The stones used for stoning symbolize the villagers’ participation in the act of killing. They are the instruments of death and represent the villagers’ willingness to blindly follow the lottery without questioning its morality. The stones also symbolize the collective guilt that the villagers share for the violence they commit.

The name of Mrs. Delacroix, one of the characters in the story, also holds symbolic meaning. “Delacroix” translates to “of the cross” in French, hinting at her role as a sacrificial lamb in the lottery. Her name further emphasizes the religious and ritualistic nature of the event.

Overall, the symbols in “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson enhance the reader’s understanding of the dark and twisted nature of the lottery. They provide deeper insights into the characters, the setting, and the beliefs of the villagers, making the story more thought-provoking and impactful.


What is the meaning of the three-legged stool in “The Lottery”?

The three-legged stool in “The Lottery” symbolizes the tradition and ritual of the lottery itself. It represents consistency and stability, as it has been used for many years as a tool in the selection process. It also serves as a reminder of the violence that lies beneath the surface of the seemingly innocent lottery.

What are some of the symbols in “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson?

There are several symbols in “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. One symbol is the black box, which represents tradition and the brutal nature of the lottery. Another symbol is the stones, which are used as weapons during the stoning ritual and symbolize the community’s participation in the violence. Additionally, the lottery itself is a symbol of blind obedience to tradition and the dangers of mob mentality.

What is the symbolism behind the black box in “The Lottery”?

The black box in “The Lottery” symbolizes tradition and the brutal nature of the lottery. It represents the community’s blind adherence to tradition, as the box is old and worn but no one wants to replace it. The box also serves as a reminder of the violence that is about to take place, as the slips of paper inside determine who will be stoned to death.

What do the stones symbolize in “The Lottery”?

The stones in “The Lottery” symbolize the community’s participation in the violence of the lottery. They represent the collective guilt and responsibility for the stoning ritual. The stones also emphasize the theme of mob mentality, as they are used in a ritualistic manner and everyone takes part in the act of killing, even if it is through the throwing of a stone.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.