The Lottery

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The marked slip of paper Symbol Analysis

The marked slip of paper Symbol Icon

The slip of paper that denotes the annual victim of the lottery is marked only by a single dark dot. This mark looks like a spot, a blemish on the blank page. Spots and blemishes are frequently associated with disease, and so the appearance of the dot symbolizes the marking of a person for destruction, as if he or she were diseased and unsafe to others. The marked slip of paper also shows the pointlessness of the lottery itself. It is created by Joe Summers with pencil the night before the lottery, and it is only this mark, casually made by another human, that determines the fate of a person. The commonness of the object reminds us that the marked slip of paper holds no power in itself, other than the power that the villagers give it by adhering to the tradition of the lottery.

The marked slip of paper Quotes in The Lottery

The The Lottery quotes below all refer to the symbol of The marked slip of paper. 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

Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal company office.

Related Characters: Tessie Hutchinson, Bill Hutchinson, Mr. Joe Summers
Related Symbols: The marked slip of paper
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:

Once the members of the Hutchinson family each draw a slip of paper in stage two of the lottery, the children open theirs and are relieved that their slips of paper are blank. Tessie doesn’t unfold hers until her husband forces her hand open, revealing that she has been chosen by the lottery. This act shows Bill Hutchinson’s dominance over Tessie. When she first appears in the story, Tessie is self-confident and funny, but her husband draws for their family in the lottery, tells her to shut up when she complains, and reveals that she is the victim of the lottery in this scene. All of these actions show Bill Hutchinson following the traditions of the village and the proceedings of the lottery rather than listening to his wife or trying to protect her from the lottery. It is clear that his love for her (if he does love her) is outweighed by his devotion to the tradition of the lottery.

The slip of paper in Tessie’s hand was marked by Mr. Summers with a pencil the night before. This detail shows the contrast between the object of the marked slip of paper and the importance the villagers place on it. The process of making the slip of paper is as mundane and unimportant as it could be. But at the same time, the marked paper decides the very life or death of a person. This reinforces the ridiculousness of the lottery, and how the villagers adhere to it despite many indications that it is insignificant and pointless, in addition to being cruel and harmful. It is only tradition and a fear of change that keeps the village entrenched in this monstrous practice.


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The marked slip of paper Symbol Timeline in The Lottery

The timeline below shows where the symbol The marked slip of paper appears in The Lottery. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Lottery
Human Nature Theme Icon
Dystopian Society and Conformity Theme Icon
...and little Davy. Mr. Graves takes 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... (full context)
Human Nature Theme Icon
The Power of Tradition Theme Icon
Dystopian Society and Conformity Theme Icon
...over to his wife and forces the slip of paper from her hand. It is the marked slip of paper with the pencil dot Mr. Summers made the night before. (full context)