"The Lottery" Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

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The Lottery Symbols and Motifs


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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text. As a classroom activity, students can track the rich thematic writing Jackson uses throughout "The Lottery".

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

The Dangers of Blindly Following Tradition

The lottery is held every year on the same day, and the people know the process so well that they only half-listen to Mr. Summers’ instructions. The children are so excited that they gather stones. It seems that the people have forgotten most of the other pomp and circumstance that goes along with this event, other than the importance of the box and the stoning. As the names are called, Mr. Adams remarks to Old Man Warner, the oldest man in the village, that other villages are giving up the lottery tradition. Old Man Warner replies, “Pack of crazy fools. Listening to young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. … There’s always been a lottery.” Old Man Warner’s comments seem to encompass the importance that all of the villagers place on this tradition, despite the seemingly progressive villages nearby.

The Inversion of Family Dynamics

This story turns the dynamics of family on its head. Before the lottery, the families seem quite normal, standing together or wives gathered together discussing their husbands. When Mrs. Hutchinson discovers that her husband Bill has drawn the bad slip of paper, she immediately yells to Mr. Summers that he didn’t allow Bill enough time to draw the right slip of paper, seemingly defensive of her husband. However, when Bill is asked if there are any other households Tessie tries to offer up her eldest daughter Eva, and Eva’s husband Don. When Tessie discovers the black dot on her slip of paper, even her children become a part of the mob. They are gleeful when they see that they have drawn blank papers, and they do not seem to show concern about their mother’s fate. Someone even hands little Davy pebbles to throw.

The Mob Mentality

The townspeople are governed by a mob mentality that pushes them to willingly participate in the barbaric tradition. The teenage boys carefully select the roundest, smoothest stones at the beginning of the story, and seem to enjoy the camaraderie that the lottery event creates. At the end, when Tessie is chosen as “the winner”, the women with whom she was just having conversations happily pick up stones to throw at her. Mrs. Dunbar is upset that she can’t keep up with the crowd, Old Man Warner urges the crowd on, and even Tessie’s children stone their own mother.

The Box

The box represents tradition for the villagers. Even though it is deteriorating and Mr. Summers discusses making a new one every year, the villagers do not like to upset tradition. Ironically, when it is not in use, it sits as a dust collector in Mr. Graves’ barn, or Mr. Martin’s grocery store. It is also a symbol of fear; the villagers make sure to keep their distance from it as it sits on the stool in the square. They know that in the box are the slips of paper that will decide their fates. That makes it a symbol of power over life and death as well.

The Stones

The children take great care in collecting the most perfect murder weapons, stones that are the roundest and smoothest they can find. They put them in piles and guard them, like treasure. The stones give them the power over someone’s life and death, which is a significant moment in their lives. The stones are a source of fear as well as power and camaraderie, both for the person who is chosen and for those who are anxious to be part of the mob that grows from the tradition.The switch from this very orderly, structured lottery drawing with paper to the stones also represents the village’s frightening change from civilized to utter brutality in the matter of moments.

The Black Dot

The black dot represents impending death. For Tessie, the dot means she has been chosen to die in this twisted, festive event. The dot also brings to an end the “fairness” she found in all of the other lotteries she’s participated in before now.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in "The Lottery". Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from "The Lottery" you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

Template: Theme


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