The Lottery Summary

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

The short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson takes place a few hundred years ago on June 27 in a small town. The townspeople start the day as they normally would, but then at 10:00 all the residents had to report to the town square. Mr. Summers led the process. He brought with him a box with small pieces of paper inside of it. His first order of business was to take role and make sure he knew who was the head of each family and which members could not attend.

Mrs. Hutchinson arrived after he had been sworn in, declaring that she had forgotten what day it was to the amusement of those people who heard her. If the head male of the family were deceased or incapable of coming as in Clyde Dunbar's case due to a broken leg, then a son over the age of sixteen could stand in or the wife would have to pick for the family. As Mr. Summers called each family name, the representative would come forward and pick a piece of paper from the box without looking at it. While this process went on, some of the townspeople talked about how the north village was talking about giving up the lottery process. The older people in the crowd seemed to think that was ridiculous, saying "lottery in June, corn be heavy soon," but the younger members thought the idea had merit.

When Old Man Warner drew his slip, he declared it was his seventy-seventh time participating in the lottery. The last few people took their slips before everyone opened them. The crowd looked around wondering which family had the piece of paper with the black spot on it. It was Bill Hutchinson. Mrs. Dunbar told her oldest son to run and tell the news to his dad back at home.

Tessie Hutchinson immediately becomes defensive, saying her husband didn't have enough time, and it wasn't fair, but those around her encouraged her to calm down, including her husband who told her to shut her mouth. Then Mr. Summers focused in on the members of the Hutchinson family, which included Tessie and Bill along with their three children: Bill, Jr., Nancy, and Dave. Since Dave was only a toddler, Mr. Graves assisted him when it was his turn to draw a slip of paper from the box. Once again after the five of them each had a slip of paper, they opened them altogether. Bill, Jr., and Nancy smiled as they held their blank slips above their head for everyone to see. Mr. Graves opened little Dave's and everyone sighed. Finally, Bill reluctantly showed his blank slip, so everyone knew Tessie had the black spot.

Mr. Summers then instructed the crowd to "finish quickly" as they moved toward Tessie with the stones that they had gathered earlier that day. Someone even handed little Dave a few pebbles. Mrs. Hutchinson screamed that it wasn't fair as the crowd descended upon her.

This story shows how some traditions are not worth hanging on to. They believed that a human sacrifice would help their crops grow, but they had no basis for this correlation, and the death of a fellow human does not seem worth having some extra corn. The story begins pleasantly enough, lulling the reader into a false sense of calm, especially with present-day connotations of winning a lottery, so when it becomes clear that the prize is death, the reader is that much more appalled.

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