"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is a deceptively simple story about a small town community that holds an annual lottery. Naturally, what makes the plot less simple is the way the story ends with one of the townspeople being stoned as a result of "winning" the lottery. A deeper look at the story reveals that the story is about tradition. Although tradition is often considered to be something positive, in "The Lottery," tradition is something undesirable and even deadly. Jackson uses imagery and symbolism to show that unquestioning adherence to tradition can be dangerous. The black box, perhaps the most ominous of Jackson's symbols, reveals the villagers' unquestioning attitude towards the tradition of the lottery. She describes the box as "growing shabbier every year" (565), showing that many years has passed since the lottery's initiation. The box is also "splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained" (566). By describing the box's growing decrepitude, Jackson is using the box to symbolize how the original tradition has lost its original meaning over the years and yet how this tradition is still not questioned. The use of the word "stained" also implies that the tradition is more than simply old but also that its integrity has been compromised. Even though Mr. Summers, the villager responsible for conducting the lottery, often suggests having a new box, "no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box" (565). This shows that the box, falling apart and damaged like the tradition itself, still is supported by the villagers, who do not want to change or challenge the tradition of the lottery.
What change there is to the lottery seems to be minimal, and Jackson uses the slips of paper to symbolize that change itself without serious critical thinking is just as damaging as no change at all.