The “scapegoat” concept of one living being standing for a larger collectivity goes back to ancient times; a real goat was sacrificed on behalf of an entire community. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this ritual appears in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus when the community sent a goat into the wilderness to expiate all their sins. Similarly, but more generally indicating one’s obligation of faith in divine power, the phrase “sacrificial lamb” is used, with the lamb further emphasizing the innocence of the being that is given up. For the ritual to be considered effective, there must be a pre-existing belief that some negative aspect of the community exists, one person’s death or expulsion can symbolize that of all the others, and collective willingness to inflict the fate onto that individual.
In “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson does not mention a connection to a prior blame or sin. The sacrifice is connected to agricultural fertility. The stoning is timed according to the calendar as the crops are starting to mature. Although one individual is ultimately selected, the process has two steps. One family is initially chosen from all the town’s families, and then one member of the family is chosen. In the year considered in the story, that individual was Tessie.