"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson was so controversial that after its publication on June 26, 1948 in The New Yorker, readers canceled their subscriptions and peppered Jackson with hate mail and threats. The story began an important discussion of what happens when old traditions don’t evolve. Published just three years after the end of World War II, the story echoes the frightening conformity that existed in Germany during the previous decade. This story brings up several important themes for students to discuss, including the dangers of blindly following tradition, mob mentality, and the inversion of our culture’s family dynamics.
The box represents tradition. Even though it is deteriorating and Mr. Summers discusses making a new one, the villagers do not like to upset tradition. They know that inside are slips of paper that will decide their fates. It is also a symbol of power over life and death.
The stones are a source of fear as well as power and camaraderie. The switch from an 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 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.