What does the title of the short story "The Lottery" imply?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title of this story implies both winning and chance, and it seems that neither one of the expectations set up by the title is fulfilled. Certainly, one doesn't "win" this lottery; there is no joy in drawing the marked paper from the black box. However, what seems much more ambiguous is how random this drawing really is. It's clear that Tessie Hutchinson is, well, different. She is late to the drawing because she "'clean forgot what day it was.'" She says that she thought her husband was just working in the back yard, and it's curious that he would have left for the lottery without fetching her to go with him. Isn't it?

Then, when Mr. Summers remarked on her lateness, she talks back to him a bit. The crowd chuckles in what seems like a good-natured way, but when Tessie ultimately pulls the marked slip of paper from the box, one might begin to wonder if they were chuckling because they like Tessie or because some, perhaps, understood that it would be Tessie who would "win" the lottery that day. There even seems to be a little teasing of Mr. Hutchinson when others tell him, "'Here comes your Missus, Hutchinson,'" or "'Bill, she made it after all.'" To say the latter seems to imply that there had been some discussion of Tessie before she arrived. Can it be coincidence that the most outspoken woman, a woman whose neglect of the lottery seems to be well-known, a woman with a smart retort for Mr. Summers, is the one who draws the marked paper? It seems unlikely.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is important to be aware of how Jackson uses the title to combine with the action of this excellent and horrific short story to lull the reader into a false sense of security. "The Lottery" makes us think of a kind of public game where one member of a group of people is selected at random for some kind of prize. This title, combined with the setting that deliberately misleads us, makes us assume that the "prize" that the villagers are drawing for is going to be a beneficial prize that they will want and that it is worth getting. Note how Jackson creates a setting that does not in any way lead us to suspect the chilling "prize" that the winner of the lottery actually receives:

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.

Such an innocent beginning, combined with the townspeople gathering and the boys playing with stones, makes us think of a town fair or celebration. However, it is only at the end of the story that we see that the prize of this lottery is actually for the winner to be sacrificed in some sort of pagan ritual to ensure good harvest. The lottery then indicates the random way that this sacrificial victim is selected, firstly choosing a family from the village, and then a member. It also may have a larger meaning of the lottery of life, and how we do not know what we will "win" in this game of life.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The idea of a "lottery" represents something related to a sense of the random and the arbitrary.  It helps to bring out the idea that there is an equal sense of probability that impacts the outcome or result.  On one hand, this reflects the sense of mathematical "fairness" that is involved in the village practice.  Yet, on another level, the idea of violence and cruelty does not seem random to the victims and the family of the victims.  The title compels the reader to consider how "random" the traditional practice of the village is.  The notion of violence and cruelty being a practice similar to a "lottery" where one's number is called is something that Jackson forces acknowledgement and understanding.  The reader has to consider whether or not any violence is random, or whether in its force is targeted against its victims.  In assessing this, I think that one of the purposes of the story is revealed in that all violence is directed at someone, not a random result of a "lottery."