How does this lottery differ from what we usually think of as a lottery?
The impact of the plot is based on the fact that this lottery is one in which the winner is the loser, so to speak. In other lotteries the winner gets a prize of one kind or another. In this lottery in Shirley Jackson's famous story, the first prize, and only prize, is getting stoned to death. In other lotteries everybody wants to draw the one special ticket. In Shirley Jackson's lottery everybody dreads drawing that ticket, although many of them, if not all, are looking forward to the pleasure of stoning someone else to death. Most of the people don't reveal their secret cruelty, but the younger boys betray everybody else's by the eagerness with which they gather stones long before the "winner" is determined. In the typical lottery there are feelings of covetousness, anticipation, and finally disappointment for all but one participant. In this lottery there are feelings of anxiety, dread, morbid curiosity, and hope.
There is a sense of the release of tension among the assembly when Bill Hutchinson draws the black spot for his family, meaning that everybody else is safe for another year. It can be felt in the reactions among the crowd, as if everybody one had been holding their breaths.
For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saying, "Who is it?," "Who's got it?," "Is it the Dunbars?," "Is it the Watsons?" Then the voices began to say, "It's Hutchinson. It's Bill," "Bill Hutchinson's got it."
There is a surge of relief, satisfaction, and eager anticipation of the finale. Even the two Hutchinson children are joyful, although they must realize that their escape narrows down the prospects of death to their mother or father or tiny brother Davy.
Nancy and Bill. Jr.. opened theirs at the same time. and both beamed and laughed, turning around to the crowd and holding their slips of paper above their heads.
The story would be funny if it were not so pathetic. The winner is the loser. The losers are all winners. There is usually only one winner and many losers in a conventional lottery, but here there is only one loser and around three hundred winners. Perhaps this explains why the people continue to support these annual lotteries for decades. It gives the survivors a sort of esprit de corps.
That is one of the things that makes for irony. Irony is like a bad joke. It would be funny if the consequences were not so painful. Tessie Hutchinson makes a good victim. She is emotional and articulate. We can "hear" the scene as well as visualize it.
Shirley Jackson’s story is ironic in today’s day and age because when you mention, “lottery,” one thinks of Power Balls and Mega-Millions in cash. In this case, there is usually a winner, and if you don’t hit the jackpot, very little is lost. In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” the “winner” of the lottery, Tessie Hutchinson, gets stoned to death by the other participants in the lottery. The consequences of winning and getting your name chosen are grave. It is a death sentence for the “winner.”
Another example of how our idea of a lottery differs from the one in the village of Jackson’s story, is that we choose to participate in the lottery. It is voluntary to go to the Quickie Mart and buy a ticket. In the story’s village, the citizens are forced to join in in the lottery, and no one is exempt.
The closest thing we have had to a lottery that is similar to the one in Jackson’s story is the lottery for the draft that occurred during the Vietnam War. Like the black box with slips of paper in them, birth dates of young men were chosen, and according to your birth date, you were either eligible to be drafted or safe from the threat of going to fight in the war.
Today, we can make connections between “The Lottery” and The Hunger Games because both stories have no real winners, and it is not a choice to enter. In today's society, Jackson’s lottery would seem barbaric and absurd.
Most of the people don't reveal their secret cruelty, but the younger boys betray everybody else's by the eagerness with which they gather stones long before the "winner" is determined. In the typical lottery there are feelings of covetousness, anticipation, and finally disappointment for all but one participant. In this lottery there are feelings of anxiety, dread, morbid curiosity, and hope.