Overview

“The Lottery” is a short story by Shirley Jackson that depicts a small New England town’s annual lottery.

  • A black box full of paper slips is brought to the town square.
  • The town’s residents gather in the town square, and each draws a piece of paper. Bill Hutchison, the head of his household, draws a paper with a black dot on it.
  • A second lottery is held with five slips of paper: one for each of the members of Bill’s family. His wife, Tessie, draws the black dot, and her neighbors stone her to death.

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Summary

Introduction

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is a short story published in the June 26, 1948 edition of The New Yorker. Written immediately after World War II, it explores ideas such as communal violence, individual vulnerability, and the dangers of blindly following tradition. Set in a fictional town in mid 20th-century New England, the story begins as a straightforward tale about a small town’s annual lottery. By the end, it evolves into a horror story featuring the public stoning of the lottery's winner. Told from an objective, third-person point of view, the plot is advanced primarily by dialogue but is also full of symbols and allusions that enhance its themes.  

Plot Summary

Around ten o’clock in the morning on June 27, all the residents of a small town gather in the town square for an annual lottery. The children arrive first and begin playing games and collecting stones. Bobby Martin, Dickie Delacroix, and Harry Jones form a pile of the stones in a corner of the square. The adults of the town arrive soon after. The mothers call their children to come stand with their families. Bobby Martin, who was the first child to start collecting stones, joins his family reluctantly.

Joe Summers, a childless man with a nag for a wife, conducts the lottery every year because he has the “time and energy to devote to civic activities.” He arrives carrying a black, wooden box. Mr. Graves, the postmaster, arrives with him, carrying a stool. Mr. Summers places the box on the stool and the townspeople keep their distance from it. The box has grown worn with age, and Mr. Summers often suggests making a new one. His suggestion has thus far been ignored, since the townspeople are wary of breaking with tradition. However, Mr. Summers did convince the town to agree to fill the box with paper slips instead of the more traditional wood chips on account of the growing population.

Before the lottery can start, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves must make lists denoting the heads of families and households in the town. They also list the members of each household. Mr. Graves then swears Mr. Summers in as the official of the lottery. Some of the townspeople recall that there used to be other rituals. However, they cannot agree on the exact details of most of the rituals, because most of them have changed or been discarded over time. Just as Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves are about to begin the lottery, Tessie Hutchinson rushes into the square. She says that she forgot what day it was but rushed to the square as soon as she remembered. After being reassured that the lottery has not yet started, Tessie joins her family.

After Tessie settles in, Mr. Summers asks the crowd if everyone has arrived. Mr. Dunbar, who broke his leg, is absent. His wife agrees to draw for him since they do not have any sons old enough to do it. Mr. Summers asks if the Watson boy will be drawing for his family, and he nervously affirms. Mr. Summers then checks to make sure that Old Man Warner, the town’s oldest resident, arrived to the square. After verifying that everyone is in attendance, Mr. Summers says the lottery can begin.

Mr. Summers goes over the rules of the lottery: the head of each family draws a slip of paper, and no one is to look at their slip until everyone else has drawn. Most of the townspeople do not pay attention to Mr....

(The entire section is 939 words.)