In a small town, there is a box that holds power over the people. With years of experience and beyond proud veterans, the box provides a security for those who use it. Though the item is a key to a system, it is a product of foreboding. The Black Box of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” reveals a source of nature that is unquestioned and unexamined. With it or without, the wooden vessel provokes an order that is necessary for its society.
The known purpose and the reigning impact of the Black Box is indisputably Death. And following this notion is the fickleness of Human Behavior swallowed by religion and apathy, and the lengths of capitalism (Zhu 35). These subjects fuel the story and horrify the reader with irony as the anticipated winner is actually a loser. Beyond that impression are small, more elaborate ideas. First, being that the Black Box and the Lottery are not one in the same because the materialization of the box is a focal point of a tradition. But the event of the crowd-gathering Lottery is actually a means of sifting out its believers. For these combined aspects, the Black Box is a fair illusion with a lot of options. The examination of this object reveals character, purpose, and scheme.
The mediocre preservation of the box is the unbalanced health and prestige of the village. The Black Box is a societal product that is endured instead of coveted. First, because the current box is a replacement for the original, lost one (Jackson 1)—which can entertain an attempt to stop a custom. Second, the box does not have a special placement in town. Though it finds a bearer in Mr Summers, the box rotates “sometimes one place, sometimes another” (Jackson 2) spending a year in a barn, a year on a grocer’s shelf, a year in the post office basement. By this nondescript box-keeping, how the object withstands can only be described as Acceptable conditions.
The relationship between the box and the villagers has little to do with its appearance. The color of the Black Box is a shallow idea since western society envisions the color black being unanimously connected to the mysterious and the dreaded, evils and the unknown. But the color in itself lacks a charge since, within the context of Jackson’s tale, the box is “shabbier each year” (Jackson 2) to the point that the paint has flecked off, the grain is frayed, and the true state of the wood is showing—like its villagers’ attitudes as the Lottery progresses. There are no comments amongst the villagers about the box’s state; there is no spoken need to give this treasure a fresh coat of paint to validate the color and no one is carpentering to keep the remains in sturdy condition. There is talk of replacement but it’s unlikely and never launched (Jackson 1). After participating in the lottery for so long and gossiping about other villages, the villager’s attention is divided. The unkempt condition of the infamous black box can be safely said to be irrelevant. Irrelevant as long as there is a box to exist.
What empowers the box is “tradition above sanity” (Cohen 66). What allows it to continue through generations and beyond memory was based on a superstition, as explained by Old Man Warner, the eldest villager who’s survived the lottery seventy-eight times. He humbugs the thought of giving up the lottery and criticizes those who would forfeit as a “pack of crazy fools” (Jackson 4), and uncivilized sloths. Other than underlining his own village as a utopia, Old Man Warner also says a catchphrase “The Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (Jackson 4). As in, the lottery brings in crops, and the roots of the lottery were in harvesting but the “vegetation ritual developed into a cathartic cleansing” (Griffin 44) so long ago that it remains untouchable. The transition was merely cyclical since “many ancient cultures believed that growing crops represented the life cycle, beginning with what one associated with the end—death” (Griffin 44) and therefore validating the shameless killing to follow. Though numerous traits define Tessie Hutchinson from her neighbors, her death was namely a key to a better harvest. Yet, given a lack of evidence on the Northern crops, or poverty amongst those who no longer host lotteries, there is no certainty of what would happen if there wasn’t a sacrifice.
In a way, the box is an avid tool to remove nonbelievers, and keep the faithful. As Old Man Warner represents the devout, Tessie is the slack. As Tessie’s chances narrows, her selfishness thickens (Zhu 37), it damns her as much as Warner’s frankness saves him. Her resentment and last words echo how little the faith she has in the lottery, and how Tessie surely didn’t accept her position in it. But it should be acknowledged that the Black Box is not a singular entity of the village but a beholder, a container and instigator to a process. The retired woodchips, windswept papers, the repurposed stones, and the balancing stool are a part of the Black Box. Beyond the stones, the stand-in box itself is the weary member of its effects. It will be the last to fade away as a rumored “tuneless chant” (Jackson 2) is the last significant piece of the box to remain in touch with its participants. The plain three-legged stool that “the villagers kept their distance [from], leaving a space” between them and this mini-platform is where the power is. The stool having three legs instead of four prescribes a unique balance and support to uphold the Black Box. Without a platform, the box wouldn’t nearly have the same effect.
What validates the Black Box is in its introduction. We are introduced to the box by its position between two people, Mr Graves and Mr Summers. The supporting host and secondary partner to the Black Box is Mr Graves. He has a personal access to village as its mail carrier, and despite his loyalty, he is not exempt from the Lottery. Graves, the bearer of the stool, “came around from the side of the box, greeted Mr Summers gravely and selected a slip of paper from the box” (Jackson 4) is an agreement between advocating the Lottery as well as being subject to it. Graves’ position echoes the villagers who annually bow to this ritual.
Who remains indebted to the box is the principal host, Mr Summers. Summers is a pleasant person due to being interactive, comforting, and gracious in his exchanges and an contributor to his community. He has the “time and energy to devote to civic activities” (Jackson 1); he has the time to tend to the good of his neighbor, and sees to the village’s orderliness, which portrays him as a well-esteemed villager. Despite his generous character, Summers is a childless husband with a complaining wife. More importantly, Summers is a coalman, which is indeed a business based on an ancient exchange between “time and energy” (Jackson 1), and the selling of dead material. Within the Lottery, Summers keeps the box, feeds it paper, holds it in his business safe, and produced the uncomplimentary black spot of the Lottery (Jackson 1,2,7). Naturally, it can be understood that through and through Mr Summers is “a twisted man” (Zhu 38) in the business of producing black things. Given Mr Summers hand-stirred the papers makes him more a direct influence than anticipated, tinkering into capitalist overtones on the ability of a powerful man who does a lot of talking, and is adequate at providing substitutes and keeping calm (Kosenko 27). For Mr Summers to be the true caretaker of the box and all it entails and causes, it responds to who reaps the benefits of toils without having to get dirty.
Mr Summers is the Black Box of The Lottery. Like the shabby container, Summers is the breathing version of this vessel. It is Mr Summers who is the proprietor to knowing who and where every person of every family and household is, and holding everyone accountable. His shabbiness is decorated with the handsome qualities of friendliness, order, prosperity, and wealth. Though Old Man Warner proves to be a stubborn entity fueled by tradition and purpose, Mr Summers is the carrier of displaying the custom. It is Summers who holds the box, and he is supported not only by Mr Graves but the villagers and the village itself. Summers is a authoritative man and his substance is the cold face and ill-tolerance of an indifferent league. It is within this perspective that it would be haunting for Mr Summers to fulfill the promise to get a new box. He does this every year but there is no change. It is worth considering that the day the black box is replaced would have to be the day Mr Summers is replaced. How, would be uncertain since the caretaker is exempt from the harvest ritual. The action would bring about a new socialism, be it usurp via stoning or the retiring of a long tradition.
Cohen, Gustavo V. “Shirley Jackson’s Legacy: A critical Commentary on the Literary Reception.” 2013. PDF file.
Griffin, Amy A. “Jackson’s The Lottery”. The Explicator 58.1 (1999): 44-46. Print.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery”. Web. 22 Aug 2013. <http://sites.middlebury.edu/individualandthesociety/files/2010/09/jackson_lottery.pdf>
Kosenko, Peter. A Marxist-feminist reading of Shirley Jackson’s ‘the Lottery’. New Orleans Review (1985) 12. 27-32. Print.
Zhu, Yuhan. “Ironies in The Lottery”. Studies in Literature and Language 6.1 (2013): 35-39. Online.