Describe the setting of "The Lottery." Why did Jackson create the setting she did? What details of time and place did she leave out?

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parrottryan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shirley Jackson published her short story "The Lottery" in 1948. She left the story's setting (its time and place) purposefully vague.

The village that the story takes place in is never named—it's only referred to as "the village." We know that it's a small town, because the story states that it has a population of "only about three hundred people." That's pretty much all the information Jackson gives about the town.

(Interestingly, when "The Lottery" was published, there was an enormous outcry. Many assumed that the town was supposed to be Bennington, Vermont, where Jackson lived. It is possible that Jackson was inspired by the town, since she was not a native and was considered an eccentric while she lived there.)

The time that the story takes place in is also left intentionally vague. The first sentence of the story tells us exactly what date it is (June 27), but there are very few hints that tell us what year or even what decade it's in. There are some hints, however. For example, the story mentions tractors, so we can assume it takes place sometime in the 20th century.

Most of the details of the setting are left intentionally vague for a very specific reason: Jackson wants to give the impression that this (surprisingly terrifying) story could have taken place anywhere in America at pretty much any time. The cruelty that the citizens show each other doesn't belong to a specific time and place, Jackson seems to be saying. It's always happening, everywhere. (Only probably not in this exact way.)

The fact that the story seems to have no specific time or place underlines the irony of one of the lines spoken by one of the characters: "People ain't the way they used to be." Jackson is pointing out that in every time period, there will always be people who idealize the past, thinking people and things were better "back then." 

You can read a summary of the story here.

Kathryn Draney eNotes educator| Certified Educator
  • The setting of "The Lottery" is left purposefully ambiguous.
  • Jackson did this so that we could imagine this story taking place anywhere, and at any time.