Readers may not expect anything bad until the last few paragraphs of "The Lottery." The man who leads it is Mr. Summers, a kindly man who runs the coal plant and leads public events such as square dances. It's a nice day at the end of the school year, and the boys pick up small round stones—there is nothing obviously sinister about this, as little boys often like to play with rocks. The men gathered around engage in small talk about topics like the weather and taxes. It is not until Tessie is selected that she protests the lottery is not fair, and it is not until the last paragraph that the reader gets an idea about why her protests were so strong. The townspeople stone her with very little emotion and then they move on with their lives, probably until the next lottery.
The setting of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" really helps to surprise the reader at the end of the story, because everything about the setting stands in sharp contrast to the violence that happens in the final paragraphs.
The story ends with an entire community gleefully stoning a fellow community member to death. But the story absolutely does not read with that kind of darkness through most of the story.
When the story begins, everything is incredibly peaceful and calm.
The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.
The opening lines make me think of the perfect early summer day. Seriously, the above lines make me want to go out and play some catch with my kids. Jackson agrees, because she carries on with those feelings. The people of the town are gathering in the town square. The children are off playing together on the outskirts of the adults, and the adults are talking about regular, everyday small talk stuff. At this point in the story, the reader has no idea what the lottery is about, but we can assume that it is not bad, because of this line:
The lottery was conducted--as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program. . .
It sounds like the people are gathering for another fun town get together. That's why the setting helps give readers the surprise ending. Jackson makes us all believe that something wonderful is going to happen in the town square. But instead a mob of people callously stones a woman to death.
The setting plays a large role in the surprise ending of "The Lottery" because everything, from the weather to the people to the village itself, seems so serene.
The day is "warm and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a new summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green." In addition, the children had recently been let out of school for the summer even though the "feeling of liberty sat uneasily on them." Still, the occasion seems joyous and celebratory.
Also, setting "The Lottery" in this rural village, seemingly in the good ol' heartland of America, throws the reader off.
Shirley Jackson is able to lull the reader into a false sense of security. Sure there is foreshadowing about the terrors to come, but without the serenity promised on the first page, the shock Jackson aims for would be much less effective.