The main irony in Shirley Jackson's story "The Lottery" is the title of the story itself, which relates to the story's main tension, and the events that occur at the end.
In order to answer the question fully, three terms must be clarified:
- Irony - Occurs when the opposite of what the reader expects happens
- Denotation - The actual meaning of a word
- Connotation - How the word is used
When reading the story "The Lottery," the first thing most readers notice is the title, "The Lottery," an event which is generally a good thing. The denotation of the word "lottery" means a drawing that results in some sort of prize. However, when the reader gets to the end of the story, winning the lottery is actually a bad thing. Therefore, the connotation of the word "lottery" in this story is a negative one.
Jackson uses the title "The Lottery" ironically in order for the story's ending to be as powerful as it is.