by Shirley Jackson
The Black Box
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The black box is a physical manifestation of the villagers' connection to tradition; Jackson is pretty explicit on this point, when the subject of replacing the box comes up: "No one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box" (5). They believe that this box may, in part, be made up of shards of the previous boxes, back to the original Black Box. We have to admit, this reminded us of the practice of collecting Christian relics, like hair or bone from the bodies of the saints or pieces of the Cross. We noted, in the Delacroix Family "Character Analysis," how much Jackson likes to upend Christian iconography in this story. Well, this seems like it may be another example: the villagers use this relic of an earlier time to perpetuate their violent, unmerciful traditions.
Like the lottery as a whole, the black box has no functionality except during this two hours every June: "It had spent one year in Mr. Graves's barn and another year underfoot in the post office and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there" (6). The purpose of the box, like the lottery itself, has become obscure with the passage of time. It is well worn, but the villagers are reluctant to let it go, again, like the lottery itself. In fact, we don't think it's too far-fetched to say that the villagers' treatment of the box represents their thinking on the subject of the lottery as a whole: they're a bit terrified by both the box and the lottery, but they're also too frightened (and, perhaps, fascinated), to drop either one.