Themes, Symbols, Motifs Analyzing a Short Story You already have learned how to understand the structure of a short story and its narration. 1. What is the plot and climax of “The Lottery?” 2. What type of narrator do we have and how do you know this? Theme Review defined as a main idea or an underlying meaning of a literary work that may be stated directly or indirectly. A major theme is an idea that a writer repeats in their work, making it the most significant idea in a literary work. A minor theme, on the other hand, refers to an idea that appears in a work briefly and gives way to another minor theme. So What is the Major Theme of “The Lottery?” Danger of Blindly Following Government/Tradition Jackson demonstrates a warning here for society not to blindly follow tradition. She writes this short story in 1948, just after the great depression and World War Two. Tradition Through this society Jackson warns us of what might happen if we do not question our existing traditions. The villagers do not know who they are to stone, why they are to stone them and what purpose it serves. They are just told to do so through tradition. The villagers just seem to know where to go and when to go there. They question nothing. Why Tradition? The villagers’ blind acceptance of the lottery has allowed ritual murder to become part of their town fabric. As they have demonstrated, they feel powerless to change—or even try to change— anything, although there is no one forcing them to keep things the same. If the villagers stopped to question it, they would be forced to ask themselves why they are committing a murder—but no one stops to question. For them, the fact that this is tradition is reason enough and gives them all the justification they need. Symbols an object representing another to give it an entirely different meaning that is much deeper and more significant. Sometimes, however, an action, an event or a word spoken by someone may have a symbolic value. For instance, “smile” is a symbol of friendship. Similarly, the action of someone smiling at you may stand as a symbol of the feeling of affection which that person has for you. The Black Box! The Black Box represents the tradition of the lottery and the blind following of it. The box has been replaced and no one knows why; there are no longer woodchips used and no one knows why; they talk of fixing the box, but it never happens. No one even knows where the box came from in the first place. The Lottery Itself The lottery represents any action, behavior, or idea that is passed down from one generation to the next that’s accepted and followed unquestioningly, no matter how illogical, bizarre, or cruel. The lottery has been taking place in the village for as long as anyone can remember. It is a tradition, an annual ritual that no one has thought to question. The lottery is an extreme example of what can happen when traditions are not questioned or addressed critically by new generations. Motifs Motif: an object or idea that repeats itself throughout a literary work. Family Family bonds are a significant part of the lottery, but this is ironic (the idea that an intention or attitude opposite to what is stated). The idea that family does the killing is ironic because in a normal society this would be the opposite of what actually would happen as family is supposed to support one another. The emphasis on family only heightens the killing’s cruelty because family members so easily turn against one another. Rules The lottery is full of rules that are arbitrarily followed or disregarded (why people are chosen, how long the lottery has been around, why men choose for the family and so on). The intricate rules the villagers follow suggest that the lottery is an efficient, logical ritual and that there is an important purpose behind it, whereas the rules that have lapsed, however, reveal the essential randomness of the lottery’s dark conclusion. Extension Can you think of other traditions in your culture that are followed without question? Do you like them? Why or why not? Are you able to follow them here in Canada? Write 2 paragraphs explaining a tradition you have and how you feel about it. Has it changed? Why or why not?