Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery: Imagery, Foreshadowing, & Symbolism


Shirley Jackson possesses a well-known reputation for dark fiction writing. She specializes in imparting fear by mixing the rational with the irrational and the unfamiliar with the familiar. Some of her famous works include “Just an Ordinary Day” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” Her masterpiece, however, remains the 1948 publication: “The Lottery” (Guran). Despite the fact that the short story’s theme generated a lot of controversies, it ranks as a great piece of fictional writing wherein its author adroitly mixes comedy and irony in a heady blend to unearth the traits of evil, hypocrisy, and weaknesses in mankind (Worth). Although possessing a very ordinary and mundane setting, the simplicity of Jackson’s direct writing technique coupled with the unique way she employs writing enhancement tools significantly contribute to the extraordinary nature of the short story; detailed imagery, foreshadowing, and symbolism are the enhancement tools used by Jackson to capture the mood of society in the village where the lottery takes place.

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The first instance of detailed imagery involves the villagers. Due to the smallness of the village {it has a population of 300 (Kosenko)}, it is natural that every inhabitant knows the other well. In such a typical rural setting, families bear typically ordinary names like Warner, Martin, and Anderson (Worth). The women freely indulge in the typical village pastime – gossip {“They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip” (Jackson, 281)}. The typical individuals who control the village economically and politically comprise a coal businessman {Mr. Summers, who has a penchant for jeans and “clean white shirts” (Jackson, 294)}, the postmaster {Mr. Graves} and the grocer {Mr. Martin} (Kosenko).

The second instance of detailed imagery involves the lottery event. Mr. Summers bears the title of designated lottery administrator {for which Mr. Graves swears him annually} (Jackson, 204)}. Mr. Summers meticulously prepares the lottery slips with the assistance of Mr. Graves (Jackson, 293). The slips are then inserted into an old lottery box grown so shabby with age that it reveals its original wood color in several places where the surface has been scratched. Mr. Martin then participates in the lottery preparation by holding the lottery box steady while the lottery slips get mixed (Jackson, 292). After the annual lottery event, the box resides for the rest of the year in either the business premises or in the house of one of the three gentlemen who oversee the lottery event. Over the years, the box remains housed in Mr. Summers’ barn for a year, it then resided “underfoot” in Mr. Graves’ post office during another year, while it spent yet another year laying “on a shelf” in Mr. Martin’s grocery (Jackson, 293) (Kosenko).

Jackson uses Mr. Graves and Mr. Summers as instruments to foreshadow the unusual culmination of the lottery ritual. The villagers view Mr. Summers as a decent man, constantly jovial (Jackson, 281) with them, administering and overseeing the annual lottery event without any apparently outwardly visible qualms of conscience. Mr. Graves, in his role as assistant to Mr. Summers, constantly hovers in the background. The unperceived threat in the names and personalities of both men foreshadows the evil that is present in normal human beings but does not draw attention to it. The readers believe that the person winning the lottery will get a prize or something similar to it. They only find out the truth about the lottery winner’s fat – death by stoning – at the conclusion of the story (Worth).

By his singular alarmist name, ‘Old Man Warner’ foreshadows disquieting events to follow. This perception is further exacerbated by the old man’s habit of passing cryptic remarks that are steeped in hidden meaning such as “There’s always been a lottery” (Jackson, 297), and “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (Jackson, 297). The first remark emphasizes the lottery’s omnipresence, hinting to readers that whatever the circumstances, the lottery always goes on. The second remark can be construed as a link between the lottery and harvesting; any shortcoming on the part of the villagers in terms of agricultural productivity would make them susceptible to being chosen in the lottery (Kosenko).

The third instance of foreshadowing involves the village children. Jackson portrays them as playing with stones, gathering them, and quarreling over them as if they had financial value. The significance of the stones escapes the readers for the most part of the story. Readers only realize much later that the stones’ use involved stoning the lottery victim to death (Kosenko).

Jackson makes liberal use of symbolism in her story. The first instance involves the post office and the bank. Both buildings symbolize the authority of the government and finance respectively – the two sources from which the three most powerful men in the village (Mr. Summers, Mr. Graves, and Mr. Martin) draw their power to control the village. Fittingly, the two buildings hem in the village square where the lottery event takes place, thus emphasizing the control of the three individuals on the annual event (Kosenko).

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The second use of symbolism surfaces when Tessie Hutchinson opens her lottery slip to the crowd. The slip contains a black dot (Jackson, 301). Just before the announcement of the lottery winner, Jackson subtly adds a subordinate clause in which we notice the blackness {symbolizing evil} of Mr. Summers’ coal trade being transferred to the black spot on Tessie Hutchison’s lottery slip (Kosenko).

Jackson uses the lottery event as the third symbolism tool. The lottery symbolizes the hypocrisy, weakness, and selfishness in people. The villagers hypocritically fake enthusiasm, pretending to enjoy the lottery whereas in fact they secretly dread and hate it. Anxious remarks like “Don’t be nervous Jack” (Jackson, 284) testify to their discomfort and tension. Among all the villagers, Tessie Hutchinson best exemplifies this trait. The villagers’ failure to put an end to the lottery ritual symbolizes the weakness in people. They are well aware of its wrongness, yet they do not possess enough strength to accost their disapproval because of their fear of being tagged as social outcasts by the rest of the village community. Tessie Hutchinson also symbolizes the selfishness of people. During the lottery event, she amicably chats with other village women while feigning pleasure at participating in the annual event. Her selfishness gets unleashed the moment she discovers her family’s nomination to pick out the black dot. First, she hurls an accusation {“You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair” (Jackson, 284)}. She next turns on her own family {“There’s Don and Eva! Make them take their chance” (Jackson, 285)} (Worth).

In the fourth symbolism, the lottery rules depict the discrimination against women. In the aftermath of the Hutchison family’s selection to pick out the black dot, Bill Hutchinson, as the family patriarch, selects the first round. Mr. Summer deliberately bypasses the second round because Bill lacks a son – only male offspring can select the second round. When Tessie Hutchinson protests that her daughter and son-in-law should be given the chance in the second round, Mr. Summer rejects her request, saying: “Daughters draw with their husbands’ families” (Jackson, 299). The lottery rules thus show the total control of the village’s socio-economic hierarchy by male family members while disenfranchisement gets doled out to women family members (Kosenko).

Jackson displays the fifth symbolism, also discrimination against women, in the village way of life. The depiction of village women “wearing faded house dresses” (Jackson, 292) denotes their powerlessness, being confined to their workplace {the home} without access to jobs earning money. Secondly, when walking on the street with their men, the village women walk “shortly after their” men (Jackson, 292), indicating their subservience to their men. Thirdly, the village men do not call other women by their names but by association with their husbands’ names {such as telling Bill Hutchinson: “Here comes your Missus, Hutchinson” (Jackson, 295)} thereby acknowledging Bill’s possession rights over his wife (Kosenko).

In the last instance of symbolism, Jackson portrays the lottery victim as a scapegoat onto whom the village people can focus, and through whom they can get rid of, their own desires to rebel. Their rebellious desires get diverted by the lottery and its attached principles away from the correct objects {capitalism and the patriarchs fostered by it}, into anger at the lottery victim instead (Kosenko).


In conclusion, it must be admitted that Shirley Jackson’s employment of the writing enhancement tools – detailed imagery, foreshadowing, and symbolism – has contributed significantly to the masterful nature of “The Lottery.” To this day, the story represents the most controversial piece of work ever published by The New Yorker. While at first, it attracted reader responses steeped in stunned confusion, speculation, and abuse, a greater degree of tolerance towards it emerged during the years that followed. People began to recognize and accept it as a masterful fictional piece by a gifted and controversial woman who herself lived a simple, ordinary life in a small Vermont town. The proof of acclaim for Shirley Jackson’s story appears in its status as ‘required reading’ in American schools for over 2 generations (Guran).


Guran, Paula. “Shirley Jackson: Delight in What I Fear.” 1997. Web.

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Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” 2007. Web.

Kosenko, Peter. “A Reading of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery.’” 1984. Web.

Woth, Lori. “Analysis of ‘The Lottery,’ a Short Story by Shirley Jackson.” 2005. Web.

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"Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery: Imagery, Foreshadowing, & Symbolism." StudyCorgi, 25 Aug. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery: Imagery, Foreshadowing, & Symbolism." August 25, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery: Imagery, Foreshadowing, & Symbolism." August 25, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery: Imagery, Foreshadowing, & Symbolism." August 25, 2021.


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