How is the lottery conducted?

The lottery is conducted on June 27th, and the entire community gathers in the town square. Mr. Summers then calls the heads of each household to draw a slip from the black box. After every husband has taken a slip, Mr. Summers instructs them to identify who has the slip with the black spot. The members of that family then draw individual slips of paper, and the person with the black spot is stoned to death.

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The lottery is conducted in the town square, where the entire community gathers to participate in the savage tradition. Mr. Summers is the lottery's officiant and begins the ceremony by calling each husband to draw a slip of paper from the black box. There used to be a formal recital and chant before the lottery, which the community has forgotten over the years. The head of each household dutifully approaches the black box and removes a slip of paper without looking at it. If a husband cannot draw, the family's oldest son is responsible for drawing the slip of paper.

Once every husband has taken a slip, Mr. Summers instructs everyone to look at their paper. The family of the unlucky person holding the black spot then approaches the black box to draw individual slips. Once each family member has drawn a slip, Mr. Summers instructs them to look at their paper. The family member who draws the black spot "wins" the lottery and becomes the community's scapegoat. The person who draws the black spot is then stoned to death in the middle of the town square. In the story, Tessie Hutchinson becomes the town's scapegoat and is senselessly stoned to death. The primary message of the short story concerns the dangers of blindly following traditions.

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This macabre lottery, which is the only lottery in the world that I would not want to win, takes place in two parts. Everyone in the community gathers in the town square, and the first step of the process involves the husband from every household drawing a piece of paper from the black box that is handed around. If, for whatever reason, the husband is unable to do the drawing, either the wife or a son will assume the responsibility, depending on the family’s circumstances. Mr. Summers, who is the lottery’s officiant, then asks those gathered to speak up if their family has received the slip of paper with a black dot on it. The person to be sacrificed that year will come from the family who has received the black dot.

The second part of this unlucky lottery is carried out to determine which member of the affected family will be publicly murdered that day. Another slip of paper is given to each member of that family, and whoever receives the second black dot knows that their number is up, and that they are about to be stoned to death.

Perhaps the most sickening thing about this “lottery” is that it is the town’s children who gather the stones which are used as murder weapons.

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In Shirley Jackson's short story, the lottery is conducted annually on June 27th and takes place in the morning around ten o'clock. Since the village's population is only three hundred, the entire lottery lasts for two hours. Before the lottery officially begins, the entire community gathers in the town square, where children collect rocks and pile them up before standing beside their parents. As the villagers congregate, Mr. Summers, the lottery officiant, arrives carrying the ominous black box, which holds the individual slips of paper that the heads of each household eventually draw. After Mr. Summers stirs the papers, he declares the lottery open and is officially sworn in by Mr. Graves, the town's postmaster.
Mr. Summers then goes over his list of the heads of each household to make sure each family has a member drawing a slip of paper. If a husband cannot draw for any reason, his wife takes his place, unless they have a son who is at least sixteen years old and unmarried who can step in. Mr. Summers then reads the names of each family in alphabetical order, and the head of each household draws a slip from the black box. After each family representative has taken a slip, Mr. Summers instructs them to turn the paper over and the person holding the slip of paper with a black spot on it identifies themselves. Each member of the selected family then draws from the black box, and the person who has the black spot is brutally stoned to death by their neighbors, friends, and family.
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The lottery is conducted each June 27, at about ten o'clock in the morning, because the village is small enough that it can be completed in time to allow them "to get home for noon dinner." The children assemble first (in part, it seems, because school is out) and begin to collect stones for their pile; then the men of the village come, and finally, the women. The "lottery was conducted . . . by Mr. Summers, who had time and energy to devote to civic activities." He has an unpleasant wife and no children, so he conducts the majority of the social events for the village. He stirs up the papers in the black box (which is stored wherever is convenient for the remainder of the year) as it sits upon the stool at the front of the crowd. Mr. Summers must speak to each man (or woman, if her husband is unavailable and she has no older son to draw for her) as he approaches the box. Once each head of household has drawn, each member of the family of the person who drew the paper with the black mark must draw a slip, and whoever gets the black mark is immediately stoned.

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There are about three hundred people present for the annual lottery in this town. Everyone is there except a man named Clyde Dunbar who is at home with a broken leg. Everyone without exception is required to participate in the lottery, including little Davy Hutchinson who is only about two years old. There are never any slips with people's names on them. All the slips of paper are totally blank except for one which has a big black spot. Whoever finally ends up drawing that slip will, of course, be stoned to death.

The lottery consists of two rounds. The first drawing is to select the household of the person to be sacrificed. There are about three hundred people present, as the narrator says, but they probably belong to not more than a hundred households at most--possibly as few as around sixty or seventy. (If there was an average of, say, four persons to a household, then there would be seventy-five slips in the box for the first round.) So there would be one slip with a black mark in the black box and fewer than a hundred other slips that were completely blank. The male heads of households are called up by name in alphabetical order by Mr. Summers reading from a list. It turns out that Bill Hutchinson draws the slip with the black mark.

Now there will be a second drawing to determine which member of the Hutchinson household gets stoned to death. What is important here is that Mr. Summers asks his assistant Mr. Graves:

"Harry, you got their tickets back?"

It is obviously essential that all the blank slips be collected from all the heads of households. This is to forestall the possibility that some member of the chosen family might pick up a blank slip and substitute it for the one with the black mark if he or she should draw it.

Harry Graves collects all the blank slips and places four blanks plus the one with the black mark back in the box. Still there are never any names in the box, only the fatal one and four blanks. Tessie is terrified. She begins protesting as soon as her husband shows that he has drawn the black spot, but no one pays her any attention. Even her husband says, "Shut up, Tessie."

There are five members of the Hutchinson household: Bill, Tessie, Bill Jr., Nancy, and little Davy. It is Tessie who draws the fatal slip. If she had been able to get hold of a blank slip someone had tossed away, she seems capable of switching them. But that would disrupt the lottery. Graves knew he put one slip with a big black spot in the box along with four blank ones. They might have to make the Hutchinsons draw all over again, and in that case Tessie might be saved, although her husband or one of her three children would be doomed.

The author describes what happens to all the slips after the first drawing.

Mr. Graves had selected the five slips and put them in the box, and he dropped all the papers but those onto the ground, where the breeze caught them and lifted them off.

Most of the people in the crowd are vastly relieved to see the papers flying away like a flock of little white birds. They are saved for another year because their households were not chosen. But they stay where they are in order to see who in the Hutchinson household will get the slip with the black spot and also in order to participate in the stoning. Approximately two hundred and ninety-nine people will stone one person to death. There would be no chance for any of the Hutchinsons to get hold of one of those other blank slips of paper even if the idea occurred to one of them.

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