The short story 'The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson has made abundant use of literary writing styles. These include the diverse and intense use of symbolism, imagery, allegory, tone and characterization. These literary styles are used in developing a story with several themes. The main themes in the story are the dangers of blindly following tradition and the randomness of persecution. Below is an analysis of some of the literary styles used in the story and their relevance to the themes.
Symbolism begins right from the title of the story. The title lottery gives the reader a feeling of false hope and expectations. The reader later has their expectations of favorable tidings bashed as the story turns out to be tragic. All across America, different yearly rituals, are performed. Some examples include the Easter egg hunt, decoration of the Christmas trees, July fourth celebrations and so on. The point is that everybody is comfortable with the yearly rituals. However, the characters in the book are not at peace with their ritual. This is clearly seen in the subdued smiles of the villagers and their uneasy nature (Sylvan, William 78). The title, lottery, is, in fact, an allegory of the village itself because at first it seems harmless. As we know, there are rules that are strictly followed in a lottery and this point to the strict observance of the ritual and its procedures.
Furthermore, in a lottery there emerges only one lucky winner. As soon as the families turn up at the town square, they show their consent and readiness for whatever outcome. The only irony in this lottery is that everybody in the village is expected to participate unlike normal lotteries that are a personal choice. The leader of the village even has to call out names to ensure that nobody is missing. "Well, now." Mr. Summers said soberly, "guess we better get started, get this over with, so we can go back to work. Anybody isn't here?" Even the oldest person in the village, Mr. Warner has to be present. Even the rich people like Joe Summers and the powerful like Harry Graves have to draw from the box. Everyone is subject to the paper they pick at the lottery. Death by lottery thematizes life's chances and the unexpected nature of death.
The black box used to carry out the lottery is symbolic. The box has been described as shabby, splintered and faded in some places. This represents both the tradition and the villager's senseless loyalty to the box. The box is weathered and old from years of storage and use. However, the villagers are unwilling to replace it. In fact, the current box was made from parts of the other old box. The villagers are not willing to change and move away from their harmful traditions. The ritual is ancient and unnecessary, but the villagers still stick to it. The draw is packed with remnants from the past that have allegedly been passed down from earlier days, like the formation of family lists and use of pebbles and rocks to kill. These are part of the custom, from which no one wants to stray-the draw must take place in just this way because this is how it has always been done.
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The story shows how the village has annually followed a bizarre ritual that culminates in the violent murder of one of their own. It shows how dangerous traditions can be when followed blindly. Before the reader learns about the lottery being conducted, all activities seem harmless. Children are running around the village square picking up stones; everyone is preoccupied with the strange black box and there is an aura of general excitement. Tradition is endemic to small towns and is a way to connect families. The author pokes holes in the respect that communities have for customs. Some of the loyally observed traditions have no meaning and most people cannot even tell their origins.
The villagers' dumb approval of the draw has permitted ritual murder to form part of their communal fabric. The village is full of superstition, and this plays a monumental role in the absurd acceptance and observance of the ritual. Old man Warner condemns the other neighboring villages that have done away with the lottery ritual. 'Old Man Warner snorted. "Pack of crazy fools," he said. "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them.' Old man Warner even believes that the village gets a bountiful harvest of food due to the sacrificial ritual. "Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon." First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery," he added petulantly." These ordinary villagers who just a few minutes ago were working, playing and doing their household chores will murder one of their own without a justifiable reason. They kill because the ritual requires them to sacrifice and it has been done since time immemorial. The person to be killed does not even have to commit a crime; they are just unlucky enough to pick out a piece of marked paper (Kelley 34).
The family ties are of vital importance to this ritual. The village is broken down to the most basic unit of interaction. At the town square, the people stand in family groups. This is meant to show the bond between family members. The head of the family picks up the paper from the black case and commits his family to whatever outcome. However, the emphasis on strong family ties heightens the cruelty of the murder because family members easily turn against one another. This is demonstrated when Tessie Hutchingson picks up the marked paper and her family turns against her and leads the village in the stoning. This shows that although family relationships control everything about the ritual, they do not guarantee love or loyalty.
The three-legged stool is a symbolic pointer of the trinity; God the father, Jesus the son and the Holy Spirit (Shirley 56). The use of the three-legged stool to support the black box represents the manipulation of religion and tradition to support communal violence. The narrator briefly describes the stoning. 'Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones.' The use of stones enables all the villagers to participate freely in the murder. One disturbing aspect of this ritual is that everyone is involved; from children like little Davy to older men. The involvement of children in the murder shows that the villagers want to propagate the ritual to other generations. The sacrifice is made to feel like a normal part of life for all the villagers (Spark Notes Editors 88).
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Another striking aspect of this ritual is the randomness with which a persecution occurs. The victim of the murder is not guilty of any transgression but just happens to pick the wrong paper. The ritual is elaborately designed as a lottery so that all the villagers have an equal chance of being the sacrifice. What makes 'The lottery' so chilling is the rapidity with which the villagers turn against Tessie Hutchingson. She loses her identity as a mother, wife or social housewife when she picks the marked piece of paper. Her friends and family engage with as much zeal in stoning her as everyone else. Her pleas and cries fall on deaf ears as everyone is engrossed in the passion of persecution.
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