It is a bucolic setting of sunshine, rich green grass, and blossoming flowers that lies in contrast to an atmosphere of uneasiness in "The Lottery." This mood is generated through Shirley Jackson's depiction of the speech and actions of the men of the village, descriptions of objects (pile of stones, black box), and the connotations of names, such as Mr. Graves.
Despite the beauty of the setting, there is an apparent uneasiness in the gathering of the villagers. There seems to be some anxiousness in the men who stand together, avoiding the pile of stones which some of the boys have made and are now guarding. These men talk in low tones, "...their jokes were quiet, and they smiled rather than laughed." Then, after Mr. Summers arrives with the paraphernalia for the lottery, there is a "murmur of conversation" in the gathering of the villagers, who keep their distance from the items that Mr. Summers has brought. Mr. Summers asks for some help, but there is "a hesitation" before anyone steps forward.
When the postmaster, who is ominously named Mr. Graves, arrives with an antiquated three-legged stool, the villagers keep "their distance, leaving a space" between them and this old milking stool. A shabby black box which is splintered on one side is then placed upon this stool. At this point, the atmosphere becomes somewhat foreboding as it becomes apparent that the villagers display a certain anxiousness about the proceedings of Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves.
The atmosphere of the short story "The Lottery" is initially normal and friendly. There is nothing peculiar about the people and how they assemble in the square.
The lottery was conducted—as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program—by Mr. Summers.
The writer manages to create the mood by portraying the townspeople as ordinary families going about a typical day. The writer starts by describing the day, which is clear and sunny. She also reinforces the background by using positive references such as “fresh warmth” and “full-summer day” to create a lively atmosphere. The author places much emphasis on the people, and the actual nature of the lottery is withheld until the end of the story. The writer describes the children as jovial and engaging in normal childhood activities. The men arrive after the children, and they engage in normal talk about farming and taxes.
They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed.
The women arrive last, and when they meet, they engage in gossip before joining their husbands.
From the title, setting and earlier progression of the story, one might expect a normal lottery with prizes for the winner. However, the story ends in the freakish murder of the singled-out individual.