The Lottery Characters
The main characters in “The Lottery” are Tessie Hutchinson, Mr. Summers, Mr. Graves, Bill Hutchinson.
- Tessie Hutchinson, Bill’s wife, draws the second black dot and is stoned to death by her fellow villagers.
- Mr. Summers is the town official who conducts the lottery and brings out the black box full of paper slips.
- Mr. Graves, the postmaster, brings the stool for the black box to the town square.
- Bill Hutchinson draws the first black dot. Because he is the head of his household, this triggers a second round of drawings for his family.
Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" includes a large number of characters for being a short story. From Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves, who contrast one another, to Mrs. Delacroix and Mrs. Dunbar, many characters exhibit simple behaviors and motivations. Because of this, each in their turn reinforces themes in the story as Tessie's fate is revealed.
Tessie Hutchinson is the main character of Shirley Jackson's “The Lottery.” She is an outspoken mother of three. Unlike the other women in the town, Tessie seems to play a more active role in her marriage. She calls out to her husband as he goes up to draw a lot, which draws laughter from the rest of the crowd. Tessie is also the only character in the short story to verbally express dissatisfaction with the lottery system.
Tessie’s family name, Hutchinson, alludes to the 17th-century religious dissenter Anne Hutchinson. Just as Anne sought to reform her religious community, Tessie seeks to undermine the lottery, suggesting the results are not fair. However, both women are punished for their transgressive attitudes: Anne was excommunicated and exiled, and Tessie is killed.
Tessie can be interpreted in a variety of ways. One interpretation positions her as hypocritical and selfish. From the moment she enters the story, Tessie is disruptive. She arrives late and forces everyone to accommodate her presence as she moves to the front of the crowd. After the results of the first round of the lottery are revealed, she immediately calls for a redo. Tessie proves that she is willing to sacrifice others in exchange for her own well-being, characterizing her as selfish. In a randomized lottery, there is little room for unfairness, but Tessie still alleges that Mr. Summers cheated her husband.
Tessie’s selfishness becomes even more evident when she demands that her married daughter participate in the family lottery. Tessie does not try to protect her children from death. Instead, she attempts to increase her own odds of living. In her final moments, she screams that the lottery is unfair and immoral. However, she has likely helped stone countless others in previous lotteries. By this reading, Tessie’s objections only begin when her own life is in danger.
However, another interpretation suggests that Tessie can be read as a rebel. By this reading, her late arrival is a way of protesting the lottery as an institution. By openly disrespecting the solemnity of the occasion, she undermines its role as a cultural cornerstone. She is also the only person to openly criticize the lottery and its alleged injustice. Even her husband and children remain silent when the Hutchinsons draw the marked paper. Though her protests do not initially call for an end to the lottery, by the end she has decreed the lottery as unjust and immoral. However, as a voice of dissent, Tessie is silenced at every turn. Her husband tells her to “shut up” and her friends urge her to “be a good sport.” Ultimately, her bid to change her society for the better ends as revolutions often do: with death.
Yet another reading positions Tessie as nothing more than a hapless victim of circumstance. This interpretation speaks to the injustice of society and the dangers of tradition. That anyone in the crowd could have won the lottery does not change the fact that Tessie is going to die. The tragedy of her death does not lie in who she is as an individual, but in the injustice it represents. By this reading, Tessie’s declaration at the end of the story is a personal epiphany: it is only upon being subjected to injustice herself that...
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she is able to recognize the injustice of the entire system.
However one decides to read Tessie, her death is still emblematic of the injustice of the lottery. As far as readers are aware, Tessie is innocent. She has not committed any crimes. However, once Tessie is chosen as the lottery winner, she is denied any degree of sympathy or compassion from the community. She is ostracized and forced to face her fate as an individual. Even her own family joins in as she is stoned. Her death is not a punishment for some wrongdoing; rather, it's a ritual killing perpetrated against a seemingly random victim. Ultimately, Tessie’s death asks readers to question the tradition that leads the villagers to perpetrate such meaningless violence.
Joe Summers owns the coal company in the town. The townspeople pity him because he is childless and his wife is a “scold.” In addition to putting on a variety of other community events, Mr. Summers is also the lottery officiant. Every year, Mr. Graves and Mr. Summers cut up the slips of paper and prepare the black box for the drawing. During the lottery itself, Mr. Summers greets each family and makes jokes. His assistant, Mr. Martin, holds the black box while Mr. Summers shuffles the paper slips around.
Despite his apparent economic success as the owner of the coal company, the townspeople pity Mr. Summers for having no children. The reason for their pity becomes clear once the true outcome of the lottery is revealed. Since Mr. Summers has no children, he has less people to draw with him should his family win the lottery. This suggests that large families are prized over economic success in this town. Additionally, his wife’s status as a “scold” hints at gender expectations in the town. Women are expected to be quiet and dutiful, not scoldish. They are expected to give their husbands large families in an effort to mitigate the impacts of the lottery. The lottery in this light becomes a tool of patriarchal control.
Mr. Summers is also responsible for many of the changes in the ceremony. It was his idea to replace the traditional wood chips with paper slips. He also wants to make a new black box, since the old one is worn down. Old Man Warner comments on the impropriety of Mr. Summers’s making jokes while conducting the lottery. All of this suggests that Mr. Summers does not regard the lottery with the same reverence that some of the other townspeople do. Instead, it is just another civic duty that he wants to make more efficient. Mr. Summers is one of its most vocal advocates, possibly because serving as the officiant gives Mr. Summers a degree of prestige.
Mr. Summers’s name links him irrevocably with the lottery, which is held during the summer. It is also evocative of his role in the lottery proceedings. Whereas Mr. Graves is a solemn, silent presence, Mr. Summers is bright and cheerful. He puts a pleasant face on the otherwise grim occasion. However, the names “Summers” and “Graves” also serve as a constant reminder to the townspeople: when summer arrives, someone will go to their grave.
Mr. Graves is the postmaster for the town. Together with Mr. Summers, he hosts the annual lottery. Though he does not have any dialogue, Mr. Graves is responsible for “swearing-in” Mr. Summers. Mr. Graves also helps Dave Hutchinson draw his lot during the Hutchinson family lottery, since Dave is too young to do it himself.
The name “Graves” aligns Mr. Graves with death. This is fitting, considering his role in the lottery. Every year, Mr. Graves oversees the lottery proceedings. Symbolically, Mr. Graves represents mortality. Each person in the town must confront their own mortality when they draw a slip from the black box. As they do so, they must also confront Mr. Graves.
The relationship between Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves is also symbolic. Mr. Summers is the friendly, unassuming face that everyone associates with the lottery. However, behind him stands Mr. Graves. Mr. Summers cannot begin the lottery until he has been sworn in by Mr. Graves, suggesting that death is what truly rules the town.
Mrs. Graves is married to Mr. Graves. When Tessie complains that the lottery is unfair, Mrs. Graves reminds her that everyone took the same chance. Though superficially a means of scolding Tessie, this comment also speaks to the randomness and inevitability of death more generally. Just as her husband represents mortality, so too does Mrs. Graves. The people of the town each take the “same chance” every year. Mrs. Graves has no sympathy for Tessie since, in her eyes, everyone dies. The lottery simply forces people to confront their own mortality.
Old Man Warner is the oldest resident of the town. He has participated in the lottery 77 times and is a staunch proponent of the system. When Mr. and Mrs. Adams mention that other towns have stopped doing the lottery, Old Man Warner is disgusted. He believes that the lottery is necessary to the town's survival. He blames young people for the increasing number of towns who plan to give up the lottery.
For Old Man Warner, the lottery is a mark of civilized society. He worries that without the lottery, people will return to “living in caves.” His name is also meaningful. A “warner” is someone who warns others. Old Man Warner warns the townspeople about the dangers of giving up the lottery. He is a voice of caution that reminds the townspeople of what they stand to lose by giving up their traditions. However, whether his warnings are true or not is left ambiguous.
Mrs. Delacroix is the first to greet Tessie after Tessie arrives late to the lottery. Mrs. Delacroix reassures her that the lottery has not yet started. The two share a laugh before Tessie goes to join her family, suggesting that they are friends. However, when Tessie protests the unfairness of the lottery, Mrs. Delacroix scolds her. After Tessie wins the lottery, Mrs. Delacroix picks up a rock so large that she needs “both hands” to lift it.
Mrs. Delacroix represents the veneer of civility that overlays systemic violence. On the surface, she is a kindly villager, willing to share a laugh with Tessie even though Tessie was late. However, she also willingly and eagerly perpetuates the violence of the lottery. In her mind, Tessie’s death is justifiable. Mrs. Delacroix urges Tessie to accept her death and “be a good sport.” In addition, her name, “Delacroix,” means “of the cross” in French. This evokes the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the concept of martyrdom. By telling Tessie to “be a good sport,” Mrs. Delacroix seems to suggest that Tessie ought to embrace her role as a martyr. However, it is simple for those who are not being victimized to tell others what they ought to do. It is left for readers to wonder if Mrs. Delacroix would have been “a good sport” had she been chosen as the winner.
Bill Hutchinson is Tessie’s husband. Bill arrives on time to the lottery with his children. The crowd teases Bill about Tessie’s late arrival. He scolds Tessie for protesting the outcome of the lottery, telling her to “shut up.” After each member of the Hutchinson family has drawn their lot, Bill forcibly takes Tessie’s paper slip and reveals it to the crowd.
Bill Jr., Nancy, and Dave Hutchinson are Tessie and Bill Hutchinson’s three unmarried children. Alongside their parents, they participate in the annual lottery. Nancy is twelve, and her school friends hope that she does not win. This sentiment foreshadows the gruesome fate of the lottery winner. It also suggests that the townspeople, especially the younger ones, do not enjoy the lottery, since it requires them to kill their friends. Dave is a young child, so Mr. Graves has to help him draw his paper slip. The crowd is relieved to discover that Dave did not draw the marked slip. His inability to draw for himself suggests that he is very young, and the crowd's relief that he is not chosen also speaks to an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the tradition. Though the town kills Tessie without protest, their relief over not having to stone a small child suggests some degree of moral opposition to the act.
Mr. and Mrs. Adams talk with Old Man Warner about how other towns have stopped holding a lottery. Though their thoughts on the matter are not explored, they do not dismiss the idea like Old Man Warner does. Their name also has symbolic connotations to Adam, the first man in Christian theology. In the biblical book of Genesis, Adam and Eve obtain knowledge of good and evil by eating forbidden fruit. As a result, they are expelled from the Garden of Eden. Civilization was then born, since God no longer provided everything for them. In the context of “The Lottery,” Mr. and Mrs. Adams introduce knowledge into the world by informing everyone that other towns have stopped hosting lotteries. Now, instead of being a universally accepted practice, the lottery is a choice. This forces readers and the townspeople to confront the morality of ritual sacrifice in the name of social welfare.
Mrs. Dunbar takes her husband’s place to draw in the lottery, since Mr. Dunbar has a broken leg. Mr. Summers reacts with disapproval to the idea of a woman drawing for her family. However, he permits it since none of her sons are old enough to do it. When the time comes to reveal which family won the lottery, the townspeople at first suspect either the Dunbars or the Watsons. When the time comes to stone Tessie, Mrs. Dunbar remains towards the back of the crowd and only picks up small stones.