Anyone who had not previously read "The Lottery" would think from reading the opening paragraph that this was going to be a folksy little story about small-town life. The lottery sounds like something that would happen in a small town, where it would be a big, exciting event. Somebody might win a valuable prize.
Then in the second paragraph the tone begins to sound a little ominous.
Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix-- the villagers pronounced this name "Dellacroy"--eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys.
Why are all the children involved? What kind of a lottery is this, anyway? Why are those boys all gathering so many stones. What do stones have to do with a lottery?
Then in the third paragraph the men seem to be behaving in a strange way.
Soon the men began to gather. surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors 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 men are obviously nervous. They are not used to gathering in the main part of town in the early morning. They would like to be doing their usual work in the fields. It is noteworthy that they stay away from the pile of stones which Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix are guarding in one corner of the town square. So in both the second and third paragraphs, there is a reference to a great pile of stones. Obviously they are going to be used for something connected with the lottery--but what? It almost sounds as if there is going to be some kind of battle in which people will be throwing stones at each other. This is no innocent small-town lottery. Something bad is going to happen.
In the fourth paragraph the black wooden box makes its appearance. This lottery is about to begin. Now all the villagers lose their efforts to seem friendly, cheerful and natural.
The villagers kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool. and when Mr. Summers said, "Some of you fellows want to give me a hand?" there was a hesitation before two men. Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter. came forward to hold the box steady on the stool while Mr. Summers stirred up the papers inside it.
The villagers are all afraid of that black box. Which means that they are all afraid of the outcome of this lottery. Together with the pile of stones, the black box gives the ominous impression that somebody is going to get stoned to death. That person will be chosen in the lottery. These are still all folksy, small-town people, but they are behaving in a sinister way. They do not want to talk about the lottery or about the black box. They do not want to look at it or to have anything to do with it. Not only is the black box symbolic of death, but most of the grown men and women have seen that black box many times before. They are obviously quite familiar with the box and the routine that goes with it. It is something that could affect any one of them. That is why they seem so apprehensive.
Shirley Jackson does an excellent job of building the tension. There will be one drawing to select the household--and still the reader will not know what the household is being selected for. Then there will be a second round to select the member of the family who will be the "winner." In the second round it is Tessie Hutchinson who draws the slip with the black spot. Her reaction makes it clear that this is a terrible lottery and that something horrible is about to happen to her. With approximately three hundred people assembled and all those stones collected, we can imagine what the finale will be like. The narrator does not describe the orgy of violence but leaves it to the reader's imagination.