What is the setting of the story "The Lottery"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The setting of Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" takes place in a small, nondescript town located in rural America on the morning of June 27th. Jackson describes the weather on the day of the lottery as being pleasant, clear, and warm, which gives the reader a sense of tranquility and optimism. At approximately ten o'clock, the townspeople begin to gather in the village square and prepare to participate in the annual lottery. Jackson does not specifically give the name or location of the town, which contributes to the story's appeal and underscores the fact that violent, traditional rituals can happen anywhere.

At various moments in the story, Jackson suggests that the town is a farming community by alluding to the harvest and crop yield. The pleasant, nondescript setting is juxtaposed with the shocking, brutal ritual which alarms the unsuspecting audience. Jackson also refrains from giving names of the surrounding towns, which contributes to her critique of American society as a whole.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The setting of "The Lottery" is, according to Shirley Jackson, her village of Bennington, Vermont: 

“I suppose I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village, to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.” 

Oddly enough, some of the readers of The New Yorker, in which "The Lottery" was first published, also wanted to know where such lotteries were held so they could visit this area and watch. This fact seems to underscore Jackson's theme of the human propensity for violence as a trait in some people, a trait exemplified by Mrs. Delacroix, who has been friendly with Tessie Hutchinson, but when Tessie draws her lot as the village scapegoat, she eagerly lifts the heaviest rock she can carry.

In her story, Jackson's village is a rural area, surrounded by other such villages with people who have lived narrow lives and, perhaps as a result of such lives, appear to have narrow minds, as well. Thus, Jackson's parable also points to a phrase used by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "the opium of custom." For, the villagers, especially Old Man Warner, continue the lottery simply because they have always had one.


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Lottery" is set in a small farming village, somewhere reasonably isolated from other villages. The people living there focus on their yearly harvest to see them through the winter, and ever since the village was founded take part in a ritualistic Lottery that picks one person to be sacrificed in honor of the harvest.

The village is not greatly described, except in brief snippets; it seems to be a typical rural farming village, with communal activities and every person directly associated in some way with village events.

...the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock...
(Jackson, "The Lottery," classicshorts.com)

This innocuous place is like many other villages around it. The anonymity of the village adds to its menace, as it could be any place in the country, even right next door to the reader's hometown. By using a sort of "Everyplace USA" setting, the author demonstrates that innocent exteriors can sometimes hide terrible secrets.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial