"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson was written in 1948. It is a short story full of irony and tension. The setting of the story is in an unknown American village. The story has multiple themes. The most important theme of the story is that people are very conservative in their attitude. They resist any change, no matter how beneficial it may be for them. People follow the set traditions and values blindly. They cannot think out of the box to find new ways and new patterns. Another equally important theme is that mob psychology could prove dangerous and disastrous. When a sin is committed by the society then it no longer remains sin and people follow dangerous and inhuman work without any guilt. These two important themes are presented by Shirley Jackson in very convincing and powerful manner.
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Shirley Jackson used different literary tools to convey her themes. The predominant one is the use of irony. She uses the tool in befitting manner and the reader is shocked when reaches the conclusion. It is one of the best uses of irony in literature. The title itself is manifestation of irony. Word "Lottery" suggests good luck, happiness and reward but all these concepts are shattered at the end.
Setting of the story is in an unknown American village. This suggests conservative attitude. This setting also points to the fact that reader should expect rigid and uncouth attitude. Writer uses setting for conveying her message in clear and loud manner as it reinforces the main theme that people are conservative and resisting change.
Use of symbols for conveying theme is another important aspect of the story. Different characters and objects symbolize different things, conveying the theme in befitting manner. Old Man Warner is the representation of old traditions and values. He wants to blindly follow the values set by predecessors. Mr. Summers is the symbol of evil and corruption, who has cloaked himself with cheering personality and smiling face. He is the owner of a coal mine representing darkness, evil and suffocation. Mr. Graves is the symbol of death and destruction. His name brings the concept of grave. He is the one who brings the black box, which ultimately decides the lot of one unfortunate person. Black box is the object of fear. It represents death and evil by its color. The object itself represents limitation and confinement. It is also the symbol of old values as it is suggested in the story that the box is very old but people are not willing to change it. Lottery is the symbol of old inhuman tradition. It also tells how gambling can result in dire consequences for humans.
"The Lottery" is a strong symbolic short story. It uses irony and symbols to great effect to convey the themes of the story. It suggests how our world is ruled by conservative ideas and ideals. We are slave to these traditions and it is our misconception that we are leading a good life.