Symbolism In The Lottery

Decent Essays

Numerous critics have carefully discussed Shirley Jackson's “The Lottery” in terms of the scapegoat traditions of anthropology and literature, pointing out its obvious comment on the innate savagery of man lurking beneath his civilized trappings. Most acknowledge the power of the story, admitting that the psychological shock of the ritual murder in an atmosphere of modern, small-town normality cannot be easily forgotten. Nevertheless, beneath the praise of these critics frequently runs a current of uneasiness, a sense of having been defrauded in some way by the development of the story as a whole.

Virgil Scott [in Studies in Short Story, 1968], for example, writes that ” . . . the story leaves one uneasy because of the author's use of incidental symbolism. . . . the black box, the forgotten tuneless chant, the ritual salute—indeed the entire reconstruction of the mechanics of the lottery—fail to serve the story as they might have.” Robert Heilman [in Modern Short Stories: A Critical Anthology, 1959] discovers similar technical difficulties. While approving the “deadpan narrative style” which screens us from the “horrifying nightmare” to come, he nevertheless believes that the unexpected shock of the ending “crowds out” the impact of Jackson's thematic revelation. He suggests that the “symbolic intention” should be evidenced earlier in the story because, while “to set us immediately on the track of the symbolism” might reduce the shock, it might, on the other hand, “result

Get Access