The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a short story that without the symbolism of its characters, would amount to little more than an odd tale about a stoning. However, because of what each character represents and the way the setting helps to magnify those representations, it becomes a short story that is anything but short of meaning.
The first character is probably the most obviously symbolic character of the story. Every word that leaves Old Man Warners Mouth reeks of tradition. He never stops criticizing new ideas about the lottery, the way it is run, or complaining about how things have changed for the worst, etc., etc. When Mr. Adams tells him that the residents of a neighboring village are considering doing away with the lottery, he says they are a pack of crazy fools. After the Hutchinson family draws for the second time and he can hear people whisper about who they hope drew the spot, he is quick to point out Its not the way it used to be, people arent the way they used to be. He probably reminds most readers of an older person he or she once knew always saying, Well in my day we did things differently., and, What is wrong with kids these days? Why when I was a kid if I did that. He is clinging to tradition, even some that are no longer observed, and totally unwilling to let go of the ones that are still practiced, in spite of how ludicrous they might be. It has always been done that way before so why change things now? In the Lottery, old Man Warner symbolizes everything that is wrong with tradition and really forces a person to consider some of the ridiculous things that we as members of society have done and or continue to do because it has always been done that way.
Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves both symbolize authority and how it can be used to coerce the masses. While neither Mr. Graves nor Mr. Summers are tyrannical, awe inspiring, or otherwise persuasive leaders, the townspeople follow them. It is very probable that if the two of them proclaimed there would no longer be a lottery it would stop but they insist with the tradition. Unfortunately as is the case so often in reality, people follow them blindly, they are leaders in the community, they must know what they are doing right? When people fail to question their leadership, in reality, just as in The Lottery, terrible things happen.
The other characters symbolize more the faults of individual humans rather than those of whole societies. The Hutchinson Family is both symbolic of internal faults that all humans have, such as cowardice and indifference. Bill Hutchinson is apparently so scared of saying no to authority that he will not take the necessary steps to protect his family. As a matter of fact he aids them in the death of his wife by forcing her to show the black spot. When a man is willing not just to stand by and watch as his wife is stoned to death but actually force her into it, there is something truly wrong. However in a sense the entire town is filled with cowards. One might say, they seemed brave, all willing to go to the lottery and risk their lives for this ritual. In reality though they are cowards for not standing up and saying, This year my family will not be participating in the lottery. If Bill Hutchinson had refused to attend, then maybe Mr. Adams would have said well if he is not going neither am I. All of a sudden, no one goes to the lottery and there is no way Mr. Summers, Mr. Graves and Old Man Warner can force everyone to participate. Now because of the courage of one man there is no more lottery.
Mrs. Hutchinson is indifferent to the fact that someone is going to die a violent death until it becomes apparent that that someone will be a member of her family or possibly herself. She is making jokes about the dishes, and how she almost forgot it was the time of the year again for someone to be stoned to death! No big deal until she was the one to be stoned. Suddenly it wasnt fair. Sadly this is the reality of humanity we just dont care until it affects us. Rather than show up to the lottery worrying for the person about to be stoned, and trying to stop it she joked until it wasnt so funny anymore. For me, perhaps the most disturbing characters of the story are Nancy and Bill Jr. who are smiling and laughing when they draw blank slips, even though they know that means someone else in their family is going to die. I just find the thought that any family member could laugh at the imminent death of a parent horrifying. However, this scene and the two characters involved are very symbolic of what the author views as the truly evil nature of humanity, even in all their youthful innocence, they are celebrating the death of a parent.
The setting of the story helps to magnify its impact on the reader because it is set in a town similar to the one many of us grew up in, and that is symbolic of everything that we consider to be right in America. Leave It To Beaver could have been set in this town. The characters have names that are the same as the people who we work with and live next to. It is all very real, from .Delacroix-the villagers pronounced this name Dellacroy, to the men talking about planting rain and tractors. There is not a single character in the story who could not be a next-door neighbor, a teacher or a co-worker. The setting is so real that there can be no doubt in a first time readers mind the story is taking place right here in America land of the free where things like this just do not happen. This makes the shock at the end of the story that much greater. The reader is forced to deal with the fact, that all these evils, authority that is too powerful, terrible traditions, cowardice, and indifference are taking place right here right now in our own backyards. The setting makes the ending so powerful because the reader cannot remove the unpleasantness of the story by saying That stuff doesnt happen here.
The combination of setting, symbolic characters and a surprisingly twisted ending make The Lottery by Shirley Jackson a truly powerful and thought provoking story.