Mr. Graves is the town postmaster and one of the most powerful men in the village and in the running of the lottery, second only to Mr. Summers. His name, "graves," provides a dark counterpart to that of Mr. Summers, with at least two layers of meaning. To begin with, he is a "grave" or serious man carrying out a serious task:
"We're next," Mrs. Graves said. She watched while Mr. Graves came around from the side of the box, greeted Mr. Summers gravely, and selected a slip of paper from the box.
In the other sense of "grave," the place to dispose of a dead body, Mr. Graves' name is just as appropriate, since what he does with Mr. Summers does indeed fill "graves" during the "summers," the time of the lottery:
The night before the lottery, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves made up the slips of paper [to choose the victim] and put them in the box, and it was then taken to the safe of Mr. Summers' coal company....
When the Hutchinson family proves unlucky, Mr. Graves is also the person who leads the youngest of the Hutchinson children to the fateful box to draw again to determine the exact victim.
The word "grave" can also be used to describe something that is likely to produce great harm or danger. Obviously, since it leads to the violent, stoning death of an inhabitant of the town by the townspeople (including the victim's own family), we can describe the lottery itself as terribly grave. Mr. Graves' demeanor as he takes part in this lottery mirrors the gravity of the tradition itself: "[Mrs. Graves] watched while Mr. Graves came around from the side of the box, greeted Mr. Summers gravely and selected a slip of paper from the box." This is hardly the time or place for warm hugs and greetings between friends; one never knows if one will be called upon to participate in the murder of a friend on lottery day. Mr. Graves clearly feels the gravity of the lottery and behaves accordingly.
"Grave" can likewise refer to something that warrants serious consideration. A grave problem is one that merits significant reflection and deliberation. One of the main themes of the story has to do with the moral laxity of maintaining outdated or unfair traditions without having any way of justifying them. No one can recall the lottery's origins, but they are unwilling to get rid of it. They cannot even bring themselves to replace the black box from which they draw slips because "no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by [it]." If they cannot replace the box out of a sense of tradition, how could they begin to adapt or abolish something larger? This lottery is a grave tradition, grave in the sense that it ought to warrant serious consideration and reflection, and, yet, no one seems to question the tradition until they "win" the lottery. Mr. Graves is the one to collect the papers of the family who has drawn the blackened slip: "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." Ironically, then, Mr. Graves does appear to understand the gravity of the lottery in terms of the damage it does to the "winner," but he does not appear to consider the gravity of the lottery as something which should be questioned and reflected upon.