“The Lottery” is forceful illustration of the point made by Sir Max Beerbohm in Zuleika Dobson: that you cannot make a man by standing a sheep on its hind legs, but by standing a flock of sheep in that position, you can make a crowd of men. It is an eerie fact that everyone in the story is on approximately the same moral level. There are no heroes and no villains. There is a victim, Tessie Hutchinson, but she is just as enthusiastic about the lottery as everyone else until it becomes clear that it is she who is to be pelted with stones. One might argue that Old Man Warner is a little worse than the others in his blind adherence to tradition, or that Mr. Summers is particularly culpable, since he seems to have authority, which he chooses not to employ in the service of common humanity, but these are hair-splitting distinctions. Essentially, the community is like a flock of sheep.
Beerbohm’s friend, Oscar Wilde, also made a highly relevant observation when he said, in a letter from Reading Gaol, that most cruelty is simply stupidity. We tend to think (and literature may well be much to blame for our thinking) that evil is something done by villains, who get up every morning determined to cause havoc in the world. Far more harm is caused by people ignorantly and thoughtlessly doing what they have always done, and there is no older custom in the world than scapegoating.
The moral lessons of “The Lottery,” therefore, are that evil comes of conformity, and that the worst things we do are often things so familiar to us that we do not even trouble to think of them in moral terms or question their value.