What is the plot of "The Lottery"?

Expert Answers

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

Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is about life in a seemingly idyllic small town on the morning of June 27th. The townspeople are gathering in the town square for a communal event. Jackson describes the event in such a way as to lead the reader into a sense of security and to elicit feelings of warmth and nostalgia for the simplicity of small-town life. As the story progresses, however, she begins to give the reader the idea that everything is not okay. The townspeople have come together for a "lottery," which sounds exciting but ends up being sinister. As the story progresses and the townspeople gather, they begin to make small talk and discuss the coming event. Children gather stones, men talk of work, women join their husbands—at first everything seems part and parcel of small-town life. However, once a man named Mr. Summers arrives with a black box, things begin to take a turn. People seem wary of the box, even though it is what the "winning" ticket will be drawn from.

After a decent amount of formality regarding the selection process for the lottery, the event is about to commence. A woman named Tessie Hutchinson comes along somewhat late and joins her family. As the lottery begins and each head of family comes forward to draw a slip of paper from the box, there is some talk about how quickly the event arrived, how it seems like there isn't any time between lotteries, and how some places are "giving up" the lottery. These examples reveal nervous tension and the idea that the lottery is not something that everyone wants to be involved in. A man named Old Man Warner chastises those who speak up and says "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon." After the climax of the story, it becomes clear that this is a tie to pagan beliefs regarding sacrifice and harvest.

Eventually the first drawing of the lottery comes to an end. Each head of household opens the paper they have drawn. When it is revealed that Bill Hutchinson's paper contains a different mark than all the others, his wife begins to complain that he was rushed and didn't have enough time to pick. At this point, the second part of the lottery begins. Each member of the Hutchinson family, including the children, must draw to see which one ends up with a marked paper. The family proceeds despite Tessie's continued protests. After picking, every member of the family except Tessie reveals a clean piece of paper. Bill has to force Tessie to reveal hers, and it contains a black spot.

Mr. Summers then encourages everyone to finish the event quickly, and as Tessie continues to protest, the members of the town begin to pick up rocks and stone her to death.

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

Plot refers to what happens in any given story—the events that make up the story. Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" tells of a small town that gathers yearly to take part in a lottery. As the story progresses the reader realizes that this particular lottery is not one you might hope to win. The town has upheld an ancient tradition of human sacrifice related to the harvest and the lottery will determine who amongst the town's members will be stoned to death that year. While many secondary characters are introduced, Mrs. Hutchinson is the focus of the story. It is she that will be sacrificed for the town that year. As you, the reader, become aware of the true purpose of the lottery, Mrs. Hutchinson becomes aware of the role she will play. Prior to being the year's chosen one, Mrs. Hutchinson was just as certain of the lottery's necessity as the other members of the town. Once it is revealed that she is the sacrifice, she tries, unsuccessfully, to make the town cease the tradition. 

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

The plot, or conflict, in this story is the struggle between participating in an action because it is actually necessary OR because it is simply tradition, focusing mainly on Mrs. Hutchinson.  In the story, the people of the town participate yearly in a lottery; as the reader, one would assume that winning the lottery would be pleasurable and possibly yield money or prizes.  However, as the story progresses, the tone changes drastically and we see that "winning" the lottery is not a good thing at all.  Mrs. Hutchinson willingly participated in the lottery and was going to accept its results—until she was the one chosen. It's not until she is about to be stoned to death that she realizes the tradition is a futile one.  

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

The story of "The Lottery" takes place on one day, the day of the lottery, a beautiful summer day in June, in what appears to be a charming and peaceful village.  The story opens as town officials and villagers gather for the lottery and ends as the "winner" of the lottery, Tessie Hutchinson, is stoned to death by the villagers.  All that happens in between those events is about the lottery, its possible origins, its traditions, the idea (quickly dismissed) of doing away with the lottery, and the protests of the "winner," who, now that she is about to die, has concerns about the fairness of the procedure. The richness of the story lies in the deceptive simplicity of this plot, which allows it to symbolize the horror of blind conformity and unexamined tradition.

Posted on
Soaring plane image

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