The famous short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson begins deceptively. The author describes a beautiful day, warm and sunny, with blossoming flowers and rich green grass. Villagers gather in the square for an annual event that sounds at first like a holiday. They will all participate in an activity and then be back home in time for noon dinner. Villages all over the area celebrate this occasion. The kids are just out of school and are in playful moods. Jackson points out that the same man who conducts the lottery also oversees other holiday programs.
Jackson misleads readers with this jubilant, festive atmosphere to heighten the shock when they discover the quiet horror of the lottery's real intention. It is not a carefree holiday, but rather a method of choosing a ritualistic sacrifice. One villager is murdered every year, supposedly to ensure a good harvest. The light, sunny, playful beginning creates a sharp contrast to the terrible ritual of the villagers killing one of their neighbors, and perhaps even a member of their own family.
Just as the lighthearted, festive beginning of the story is intentionally misleading, so too is the title. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the primary definition of lottery is: "A drawing of lots in which prizes are distributed to the winners among persons buying a chance." When readers see the title "The Lottery," they first think of games in which they can win money or prizes. Nowadays, people can win millions of dollars in state-run lotteries. In the early twentieth century, lotteries were games played mainly by poor people hoping to gain a few extra dollars. Jackson uses this misleading title so that the surprise of readers will add to their horror when they realize the person who wins this lottery does not win a prize but instead is painfully stoned to death.