“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson opens on a warm June day in a town of about 300 people and describes an annual event in the town, a tradition that is apparently widespread among surrounding villages as well. Children arrive in the town square first and engage in “boisterous play.” Some of the boys create a “great pile of stones in one corner of the square.”
When the men of the village arrive they stand away from the stones, joke quietly, and smile instead of laugh. The women arrive next. As they join their husbands, they call to their children. One mother’s voice carries no weight, and it is her husband that commands Bobby Martin’s attention.
The event for which they gather is a lottery conducted by Mr. Summers, a neatly dressed, jovial business man with a wife but no children. Although many traditional customs associated with the lottery seemed to have been lost over time, Mr. Summers still has “a great deal of fussing to be done” before he declares the lottery open. He has created lists of households, their heads, and their members. He and Mr. Graves, the postmaster, have spent the previous night making up slips of paper to be placed in a shabby black box that has been used for the lottery for as long as Mr. Summers can remember.
As Mr. Summers is about to begin the drawing, Tessie Hutchinson hurries to join the crowd. She had forgotten that today was the lottery and remembered while she was washing dishes. She speaks briefly with Mrs. Delacroix about her forgetfulness and makes her way to stand beside her husband. Mr. Summers then begins to call off the names of each family in the village. As the household name is called the male head of the family steps up to Mr. Summers and draws a slip of paper from the box. All are told not to look at the slip until after the last name has been called. During the time it takes to complete the drawing, Mr. Adams notes that some towns have started to talk about doing away with the lottery. Old Man Warner, participating in his seventy-seventh lottery, snorts at the idea and says that would only cause trouble.
After the last name has been drawn there is a long pause before Mr. Summers tells the men to look at their slips of paper. When Tessie Hutchinson realizes that her husband holds the marked slip, she cries out that the process was not fair. The reader learns at this moment that the lottery does not offer a reward or prize in the traditional sense. Tessie claims her husband had to rush to choose the slip of paper and that her daughter and son-in-law should be included in the next round. Her husband tells her to be quiet as Mr. Graves puts only five slips of paper into the box, one for each family member who lives in the Hutchinson household.
The Hutchinson children pick first followed by Bill and then Tessie. The two older children look at their slips and rejoice. Mr. Hutchinson looks at his and shows the blank paper to Mr. Summers. It is then clear that Tessie has drawn the unfortunate slip and Mr. Summers asks the townspeople to complete the lottery quickly. They begin to gather up stones and throw them at Tessie.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Shirley Jackson, Published by Gale, 1997.