Where does "The Lottery" take place?

Expert Answers

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

One of the weird features of "The Lottery" is that the action seems to be taking place in the heartland of America in the present day. The people all talk and act like rural Americans, like ordinary "folks." They all seem folksy, friendly, and neighborly--which is one of the factors that contributes to the horror of the gruesome ending. The lottery itself seems to be conducted in a characteristically small-town American fashion, with a little awkwardness and confusion and people talking back and forth with their friends and neighbors.

The lottery was conducted--as were the square dances, the teen-age club, the Halloween program--by Mr. Summers, who had time and energy to devote to civic activities.

Both square dances and Halloween sound typically American. Most of the peoples' names sound American, including Summers, Graves, Martin, and Warner.

Old Man Warner sounds the most American of all.

"Pack of crazy fools," he said. "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while."

Mr. Warner comes closest to identifying the exact location of this event when he says:

"Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.'"

Evidently this lottery ritual is so old that no one really knows how or why it began, but it seems to have originated as a human sacrificial ceremony intended to insure a good corn crop. Now it is only continued because it is a tradition. From this clue as well as the people's speech patterns, it appears that the locale intended by the author Shirley Jackson is the Corn Belt, which stretches from eastern Nebraska through Iowa and into southern Illinois. Most likely this village is intended to be set in Iowa.

When the story was published in The New Yorker in 1948, the magazine as well as the author, received numerous complaints.

After publishing the story, The New Yorker received hundreds of letters and telephone calls from readers expressing disgust, consternation, and curiosity, and Jackson herself received letters concerning ''The Lottery" until the time of her death. (eNotes Study Guide Introduction)

The good people of the Midwest felt that they were being deliberately insulted--and they were probably right. The New Yorker was a sophisticated humor and literary magazine with few subscribers in Middle America or anywhere else besides the New York region. The story seems to be accusing Midwesterners of being backward, superstitious, old-fashioned, and ignorant. Times have changed, of course. The entire nation is becoming more homogenous because of such things as automobiles, super-highways, chain stores, and television; and The New Yorker has been suffering financial problems for years which have forced it to reach out for readers all over America. Interestingly, in 1991 the magazine published a series of excellent stories by Tom Drury about a state very much like Iowa which were collected in a book titled The End of Vandalism (see reference link below). It continues to publish articles about places all over the United States.

Shirley Jackson avoided pinpointing the exact location of her imaginary lottery, but she offers enough clues to make the reader assume that it was taking place right in modern times and either in Nebraska or Iowa.

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

“The Lottery,” a short story by Shirley Jackson which tells the tale of a small town that holds an annual lottery to decide which member of their community will be stoned to death. Part of the enduring, yet creepy power the short story still holds over readers today, is the fact that Jackson does not specify what small town “The Lottery” takes place in, or even what state. It is a story that could exist in any small pocket of America, which helps it achieve an unsettling ubiquitous power.

There are a few clues. The town has roughly three hundred citizens. The small town is agrarian, with the lottery being rationalized as a way to assure a good harvest, as evidenced by the town adage: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” It has the feeling of a town someplace in the heartland or possibly even the South of America, with “villages farther north” being rumored to have already done away with the lottery entirely. In reality, the exact location of the town in “The Lottery” is less important than the location of the morals of those who inhabit it They are kind, family-oriented people on the surface but underneath have the capacity for backwards, superstitious, and violent callousness.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

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