On a late summer morning, the villagers of a small New England town gather to conduct their annual lottery. There is an air of festivity among them, especially the children. Only a few in the crowd reveal slight hints of tension or unease.
The lottery has a long history in this and surrounding towns. The people who run it—in this town, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves—work hard to preserve the rituals that have been passed down from year to year. Changes have crept in, and some old-timers such as Old Man Warner regret what they perceive as a loss of a heritage that has preserved the happiness and prosperity of the town over time.
All the villagers finally arrive, Tessie Hutchinson being one of the last. Mr. Summers conducts the preliminaries, ensuring that each family is represented and that those who are absent have someone on hand to draw for them. Finally the lottery begins: Heads of families step forward and draw small paper slips from the black box that Mr. Summers keeps for the occasion. As this goes on, townspeople engage in small talk, and the air of festivity gives way to a pervasive aura of nervousness.
When all the slips are drawn, Bill Hutchinson discovers that he has picked the one marked with a black spot. Immediately Tessie begins complaining that the drawing was not conducted properly. Others encourage her to be a good sport, however, and her protests fall on deaf ears. She and the other members of her immediate family now come forward and draw slips, as various townspeople whisper apprehensively. Tessie draws the slip with the black spot. Mr. Summers commands, “Let’s finish quickly.”
The townspeople now move off to a cleared spot outside the town, Tessie in the center of the group. A desperate woman now, Tessie entreats the crowd to go through the ritual again, doing things fairly. Ignoring her protests, the men, women, and children of the town begin stoning her.