Why is the crowd important?
Shirley Jackson does an excellent job of creating the impression of a large crowd in attendance for the lottery drawing. She states that there were "only about three hundred people" in the village, and all of them are present except for a man named Clyde Dunbar who broke his leg. One way in which the author creates the impression of a large gathering is by her use of what James Moffett and Kenneth R. McElheny call "Anonymous Narration--No Character Point of View" in their excellent book, Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories (Rev. ed. 1995). Many characters are named, but none of the story is told through any character's point of view, nor is the narration from an omniscient third-person point of view. As Moffett and McElheny explain:
By staying outside the minds of all the characters, a narrator drops the role of confidant and relies entirely on eyewitness and chorus knowledge alone.
Jackson drops many references to "the crowd" throughout the story. For example:
Mrs. Hutchinson craned her neck to see through the crowd and found her husband and children standing near the front.
A tall boy in the crowd raised his hand.
A man disengaged himself from the crowd and came forward.
...and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson's arrival.
There are many other references to the "crowd" from various angles. This one, which contains the word "crowd" twice, is especially noteworthy:
The crowd was quiet. A girl whispered, "I hope it's not Nancy," and the sound of the whisper reached the edges of the crowd.
This is the only expression of human compassion in the story. The invisible and anonymous girl, about twelve years old like her friend Nancy Hutchinson, has to whisper because she is afraid of voicing anything which might seem to reflect unfavorably on the whole principle of this benighted lottery. But young people like her may someday raise their voices and demand that the town put an end to this superstitious idiocy. This is quite obviously a patriarchal society. The men run the lottery and the men draw the slips for their families. It may be the young women who will take the lead in affirming "felt values" over male-dominated tradition, as voiced so vehemently by Old Man Warner.
One result of creating the illusion that there is a large crowd of people assembled for this annual occasion is to make the climax especially effective when some 298 men, women and children--all friends, neighbors, and relatives--turn on one pathetic lone woman, Tessie Hutchinson, who is holding her hands out desperately as if trying to fend them off.
"It isn't fair, it isn't right," Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.
That last sentence of the story is especially chilling because of the whooshing suddenness with which the crowd attacks. This effect of suddenness is achieved by the use of a comma rather than a period right after the words, "'It isn't fair, it isn't right,' Mrs. Hutchinson screamed...." It is a small town, but 298 people are still a lot of people to be attacking a woman with stones. The sentence makes it seem as if they are almost upon her when she screams "It isn't fair, it isn't right." Jackson probably calls her "Mrs. Hutchinson" at that point rather than "Tessie Hutchinson" in order to remind the reader that she has a husband and three children--all of whom are undoubtedly among the crowd who are now intent on stoning her to death.