"The Lottery" is set in an unnamed village in an unnamed time period. This setting indicates that the events that happen there could happen in any place at any time, making the theme of blindly following tradition universally applicable.
Upon first reading the story, most people do not anticipate the violent ending, though subsequent readings show that many clues are offered throughout the story (stones being gathered at the beginning, the focus on Tessie's lateness, and Old Man Warner's conversation about whether or not to discontinue the lottery being just a few examples).
The setting is a summer day in an unnamed village, and the tranquil setting makes it hard to predict such a horrible thing will happen.
The description of the village is quite idyllic. It certainly does not seem like the kind of place where anything bad would happen. In fact, it seems like a normal, wholesome, old-fashioned village.
The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square …
The fact that it is a summer day adds to the deceptively calm and comforting nature of the setting. We are lulled into a false feeling of security and peace. Everything seems to be docile. School is out, and the children are gathering. It seems to be a happy time, but there is an undercurrent of unease.
Tradition is very important in this community. Things are done the way they are because they always have been, and no one dares change things. The lottery box is a good example.
There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here.
There is talk about a new box, but no one makes one. The stool has three legs, but no one replaces it. The lottery goes on, because no one questions it. Things are done this way, despite the terrible consequences, because this is the way they have been done in the past. No one in this town questions tradition.
As we learn about the box and the stool, we might begin to anticipate that things are not quite right. It is not until the people seem to be uneasy that the reader realizes that something might be wrong.
They grinned at one another humorlessly and nervously. Then Mr. Adams reached into the black box and took out a folded paper. He held it firmly by one corner as he turned and went hastily back to his place in the crowd …
Still, it is subtle. As the story continues, the reader learns what the lottery is. The “winner” gets stoned to death. Why would a community allow such a thing to happen, just in the name of tradition? The story’s message is clear. We do many things in the name of tradition that make no sense.
Although this is an extreme example, there are many cases where prejudice and peer pressure make people do things they would not normally do, or people continue acting in the name of tradition when it is beyond reason. When you are part of a crowd, or a tradition, you substitute other judgement for your own.