Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
On a late summer morning, the villagers of a small New England town gather to conduct their annual lottery. There is an air of festivity among them, especially the children. Only a few in the crowd reveal slight hints of tension or unease.
The lottery has a long history in this and surrounding towns. The people who run it—in this town, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves—work hard to preserve the rituals that have been passed down from year to year. Changes have crept in, and some old-timers such as Old Man Warner regret what they perceive as a loss of a heritage that has preserved the happiness and prosperity of the town over time.
All the villagers finally arrive, Tessie Hutchinson being one of the last. Mr. Summers conducts the preliminaries, ensuring that each family is represented and that those who are absent have someone on hand to draw for them. Finally the lottery begins: Heads of families step forward and draw small paper slips from the black box that Mr. Summers keeps for the occasion. As this goes on, townspeople engage in small talk, and the air of festivity gives way to a pervasive aura of nervousness.
When all the slips are drawn, Bill Hutchinson discovers that he has picked the one marked with a black spot. Immediately Tessie begins complaining that the drawing was not conducted properly. Others encourage her to be a good sport, however, and her protests fall on deaf ears. She and the other members of her immediate family now come forward and draw slips, as various townspeople whisper apprehensively. Tessie draws the slip with the black spot. Mr. Summers commands, “Let’s finish quickly.”
The townspeople now move off to a cleared spot outside the town, Tessie in the center of the group. A desperate woman now, Tessie entreats the crowd to go through the ritual again, doing things fairly. Ignoring her protests, the men, women, and children of the town begin stoning her.
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Just before 10 a.m. on June 27, the three hundred inhabitants of a small village in New England start gathering at the town square. The children arrive first, and some of the boys begin to put rocks and stones into a pile. As the morning progresses, the men of the village begin to arrive, coming from their farms and fields. They are soon joined by their wives, who have come from their household chores. The scene is convivial: The children laugh and play, and the adults joke and gossip.
Eventually, Mr. Summers, a local businessperson who seems to be in charge of the assembly, arrives, carrying a large black box. He is followed by the village postmaster, Mr. Graves, who carries a stool. Two men help Mr. Summers place the heavy box on the stool, and Mr. Summers begins to stir and shuffle the hundreds of slips of paper that are inside the box. Then, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves begin drawing up lists of families, including the head of each household and the names of all members of each family. The old and decrepit box makes it clear that some sort of ancient tradition is being followed. The villagers recall that in the past the procedure had been longer and more elaborate. The oldest denizen of the town, Old Man Warner, points out that this is his seventy-seventh year participating in the ritual, called simply the lottery.
As the men are working on the lists of families, Tessie Hutchinson arrives, the last villager to join the crowd at the square. Tessie had realized at the last minute, while she was washing dishes, that today is June 27. Her friends and neighbors tease her about her tardiness.
The lottery begins. Mr. Summers calls up each head of household in alphabetical order, from Adams to Zanini. As people draw their slips,...
(The entire section is 731 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Jackson once indicated that if she had never published any other work, she would be remembered for “The Lottery.” After the story came out in The New Yorker in 1948, Jackson received hundreds of letters, most of which were overwhelmingly negative. The letter writers were shocked, bemused, and, in some cases, frankly abusive. Many people wanted to know where and when the lottery was held so that they could witness it. Set in modern times in what some readers assumed was Jackson’s home of Bennington, Vermont, “The Lottery” caused a nationwide stir and made the author famous in her own time.
Jackson begins the story with typical understatement. The sun is shining on a summer’s day. Children are not in school, and they are the first to gather in the village square. Their parents join them as the hour for the lottery approaches. Soon everyone in the village is present (with the exception of Clyde Dunbar, who has a broken leg). Mr. Summers, who runs a coal business, is the master of ceremonies. He and the postmaster, Mr. Graves, set a black box on a stool in the middle of the square. There is an air of anticipation as Mr. Summers stirs the slips of paper in the black box and begins the drawing.
The villagers have done this many times before. For Old Man Warner, this is his seventy-seventh lottery. The event does not take long. It starts at ten o’clock in the morning and is over in a couple of hours. Everyone will be back home...
(The entire section is 542 words.)