One of the great ironies of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is that what the lottery seems to be is so different from what it really is. We have some incidents that happen which, looking back and knowing what we know about the end of the story, we might have picked up on, like the piles of rocks. However, most of those are only knowable after the fact.
The first three indications we have that something is not right are these:
1. The people are hesitant to come near the black box and the stool, which are obviously part of the lottery process.
The postmaster, Mr. Graves, followed him, carrying a three- legged stool, and the stool was put in the center of the square and Mr. Summers set the black box down on it. The villagers kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool. and when Mr. Summers said, "Some of you fellows want to give me a hand?" there was a hesitation before two men
offered to help. First, everyone keeps their distance from the stool, and second, everyone is hesitant to touch any of the lottery stuff.
2. When all the preparations have been made, the lottery is finally ready to begin. If the lottery were a joyous occasion and something everyone looks forward to, Mr. Summers would not say this:
"Well, now." Mr. Summers said soberly, "guess we better get started, get this over with, so's we can go back to work. Anybody ain't here?"
This is something which must be done, "gotten over with."
3. Everyone is required to participate. Notice he asks if there is anyone not there; for a celebratory event, one would ask if everybody is here. So the final hint that this is not a typical lottery is that everyone has to participate. Janey's husband is unable to be there, so she has to draw for him.
"Me. I guess," a woman said. and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. "Wife draws for her husband." Mr. Summers said. "Don't you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?"
In a real lottery, a lucky winner's name or number is drawn; in this lottery, everyone has to draw a piece of paper. This is a clear indication that something is not right with this particular lottery.
The lottery isn't all that it appears is shown by:
"There is an air of festivity among them, especially the children. Only a few in the crowd reveal slight hints of tension or unease."
Although the crowd seems friendly, some do not manage to mask their nervousness.
School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play. and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands.
The children are uneasy, and although they should be happy school is over for summer, that seems to be all they can discuss--even the times they got in trouble.
They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they
smiled rather than laughed.
Though they joked, they didn't laugh at their jokes--an underlying clue that they feel tense. The fact that they are avoiding being near the piles of stones shows that there is a negative aura surrounding them. The stones are not going to be used for something pleasant.