The Lottery

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The Black Box Symbol Icon

The black box is the container from which the villagers draw the slips of paper for the lottery, and as part of this tradition, it has special meaning for the villagers. The box is worn and old, but the villagers do not want to “upset tradition” by replacing it, even though it is not even the original box used for the ritual. The black box is an artifact, and, like all artifacts, is culturally and historically important to its people. The black box is a symbol to the villagers of the longevity of their tradition and the fact that many people before them have upheld the practice of the lottery. The black box lends confidence to the villagers because it reminds them to trust in the tradition of their forefathers—never considering that those traditions might be immoral.

The Black Box Quotes in The Lottery

The The Lottery quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Black Box. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Juxtaposition of Peace and Violence Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition of The Lottery published in 2005.
The Lottery Quotes

The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here.

Related Characters: Mr. Joe Summers, Old Man Warner
Related Symbols: The Black Box
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

As the villages begin preparing for the annual lottery, the story presents the objects and rituals involved in the lottery. One of these is a black box from which the villagers draw pieces of paper according to their family groups. This passage describes the authority the box itself has in the lottery, and how objects can take on a mysterious power when they have been used as part of a tradition for a long time. Every world religion has significant objects and artifacts, as do many secular traditions, and this passage references this universal idea: humans value traditions and the objects that are associated with them, often for no other reason than because they are old and associated with tradition.

This quote also shows the villagers operating as a collective whole. An individual, such as Mr. Summers, who has a different idea of what to do (in this case, change the black box) doesn’t persist against the popular opinion that the box shouldn’t change. This shows the willingness of individuals to conform to the popular opinions of society, and how such group conformity can even lead to monstrous traditions like the lottery itself.

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Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box…

Related Characters: Tessie Hutchinson
Related Symbols: Stones, The Black Box
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Tessie has been selected as the victim of the lottery, the truth of the tradition is revealed as the villagers pick up stones. This quote describing the villagers’ act of arming themselves with stones reminds the reader of several key ideas already established in the story. First, this passage points out the aspects of the lottery that have been lost, but they are set up as different than the use of stones, which has been consistent throughout the years that the lottery has been in existence. Therefore, the villagers don’t forget to use stones, which shows that violence (unlike other details of ritual) is unforgettable. Using a stone as a weapon is part of human psychology, a primitive means of attack or self-defense.

This quote also references the beginning of the story, where the young boys were collecting stones. This early passage is recast in a grim light as these stones, which the reader once assumed to be playthings, are transformed into murder weapons. Even the young children are involved in this violence, which further shows that violence is instinctual. Innocent activities, such as children playing or the everyday life in this village, do not exclude the possibility of violence, which can occur anywhere.

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The Black Box Symbol Timeline in The Lottery

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Black Box appears in The Lottery. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Lottery
The Juxtaposition of Peace and Violence Theme Icon
Family Structure and Gender Roles Theme Icon
The Power of Tradition Theme Icon
Dystopian Society and Conformity Theme Icon
...his wife is unkind and the couple has no children. Mr. Summers arrives bearing a black box . He is followed by the postmaster, Mr. Graves, who caries a stool. (full context)
The Juxtaposition of Peace and Violence Theme Icon
The Power of Tradition Theme Icon
Dystopian Society and Conformity Theme Icon
Mr. Graves sets the stool in the center of the square and the black box is placed upon it. Mr. Summers asks for help as he stirs the slips of... (full context)
The Power of Tradition Theme Icon
Dystopian Society and Conformity Theme Icon
...replace the original pieces of wood with slips of paper, which fit more easily in the black box now that the population of the village has grown to three hundred. The night before... (full context)
Human Nature Theme Icon
Family Structure and Gender Roles Theme Icon
The Power of Tradition Theme Icon
Dystopian Society and Conformity Theme Icon
...Summers is only required to address each person as he comes forward to draw from the black box . Mr. Summers is dressed cleanly and seems proper and important as he chats with... (full context)
Human Nature Theme Icon
Dystopian Society and Conformity Theme Icon
...the slips of paper back and puts five, including the marked slip of paper, in the black box . The others he drops on the ground, where a breeze catches them. Mrs. Hutchinson... (full context)
Human Nature Theme Icon
The Power of Tradition Theme Icon
Dystopian Society and Conformity Theme Icon
...help little Davy. Mr. Graves takes the boy’s hand and walks with him up to the black box . Davy laughs as he reaches into the box. Mr. Summers tells him to take... (full context)