The Lottery Summary
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“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson opens on what can be described as an idyllic scene in a small village with green grass, budding flowers, and polite small town folks gathering in the town square. From this early point in the plot of “The Lottery” it would seem to the uninformed reader that we are about to encounter a happy story, perhaps about someone about to win some great prize. There are clues, also called foreshadowing, contained in this early part of “The Lottery” that stain the image of small town perfection we’re being asked to envision. For instance, we notice that there is a careful gathering of stones into a pile that the adult men, who are polite but we begin to notice, a bit restrained, wish to keep their distance from. It is clear from this point in the plot of “The Lottery” that the stones are the markers of something that reminds of them of a negative experience or event.
Everyone is milling about in this “typical” small town when the lottery finally begins. According to the narrator of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “The lottery was conducted—as were the square dances, the teenage club, the Halloween program—by Mr. Summers, who had time and energy to devote to civic activities” (212). This is one of the important quotes from “The Lottery” because it shows that this lottery is considered a civic or community activity by the people of the town, just as a dance or other club event might be. This fact becomes more chilling as the reader realizes what the lottery really is.
To aid in the conducting of the lottery, the postmaster brings out a stool and an old black wooden box that is so aged that it is splintered and faded. The narrator tells us that the original box was itself also incredibly old, saying “the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born” (212) which indicates that the lottery has been going on for a very, very long time. Other clues throughout the next couple of pages show too that it is a long-standing tradition that dates back to the first settlers of the village. The lottery even has a bunch of rituals and traditions associated with it, including a formal swearing-in of the official. Despite the level of ritual and tradition with the lottery, the box itself never stays in the same place every year but is moved around, often carelessly, sent to barns and sometimes a shelf in the grocery store.
The lottery begins with a great amount of ceremony and it is clear that the traditions and rituals surrounding the lottery are so old that only a few remember what things used to be like. The narrator tells us that “There was the proper swearing-in of Mr. Summers by the post-master as the official of the lottery at one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory, tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year” (213). There is also a great amount of detail given about heads of households and family members and customs about which genders draw for which in the absence of one or another. At this point in the plot of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, the description of the rituals ends and we are brought back to the present as a woman named Mrs. Hutchinson comes running in, late because she forgot the date. The crowd laughs politely—in fact, everyone is always softly, politely smiling or laughing, that is, until the formal process of drawing names begins.