"The Lottery," a short story written by Shirley Jackson, is a tale about an inhumane
and horrific tradition that a community celebrates every year between 10 a.m. and noon
on June 27, a sunny day, in a New England village (“Cummings Study Guide”). Not only
is this story about tradition but it also hides the meaning of symbolism as well. The
setting takes place in a small village consisting of about three hundred people. On June
twenty-seventh of every year, the members of this traditional community hold a village
wide lottery in which everyone is expected to participate. A black box holds hundreds of
pieces of paper that each member of the community must choose from. There is one
piece of paper that has a marking of a dot on it. The paper with this marking means an
unfair fate for the person who has picked it. This fate is ultimately a casual murder of
being stoned to death that the whole town is guilty of.
In this lottery, the winner sacrifices his or her own life for the sake of the tradition.
Through the actions and contrast of settings, Shirley Jackson shows the inhumanity of
the traditional lottery and points out the cruelty of people and the relationship between
the people. It becomes apparent this community is very weak-minded. The people in
this community have no respect for the ritual itself, they just want to hurry up and find
out who won, and get to the stoning. In response to questions about the “meaning” of
the story, Shirley Jackson wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle (July 22, 1948):
“Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by
setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the
story`s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general
inhumanity in their own lives.” (“Private Demons.
Cited: Madeleine Sackler. The Lottery. Video documentary, 2010.