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 villagers show a certain degree of nervousness. However, homespun humor reasserts itself when Bill Hutchinson is called and his wife urges him forward in a raucous and bossy way, causing those around her to snicker. While the drawings by the heads of households continues, Old Man Warner gets into a discussion with the people sitting near him about the background of the lottery. It appears that the lotteries used to be common in the region, but some villages have given up the practice. These breaks in tradition elicit Old Man Warner’s scorn: “There’s always been a lottery,” he insists, and he attributes the abandonment of the ritual to the current generation, whom he denounces as a “[p]ack of young fools.” He also reveals that the lottery is in essence a fertility ritual, and he quotes a half-forgotten adage: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”
All of the heads of families have finished drawing their slips of paper. Bill finds that he has drawn a slip with a dark splotch. It soon becomes apparent that something sinister is going on, as Tessie shouts out, “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair.” Dickie Delacroix’s mother urges Tessie to “Be a good sport,” and Bill’s advice to his wife is grim and terse: “Shut up, Tessie.” Tessie, however, continues to argue about the fairness of the procedure.
The slips of paper are retrieved, including the one with the ominous black splotch. Next, each of the five members of the Hutchinson family is made to draw from five slips. As this second drawing proceeds, one of Nancy Hutchinson’s school friends murmurs, “I hope it’s not Nancy,” a wish that draws fresh scorn from Old Man Warner. The Hutchinsons each display their slips of paper—Tessie’s slip is dotted. Mr. Summers announces “Let’s finish quickly,” an exhortation in keeping with an earlier indication that the time of the lottery has been set at 10 a.m. so that the villagers can return home in time for their noon meals.
As Tessie stands alone, her neighbors and family and friends pick up stones and rocks from the piles the boys had amassed earlier. Dickie’s mother selects a rock so huge, she can barely lift it, and little Dave Hutchinson, too, is given a few small rocks to throw. As Tessie shrieks about the unfairness of the ritual, the villagers begin to stone her to death.