Humanitarian / Literature Book Report/Review


The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

"The Lottery" is a short story written by Shirley Jackson. It was published in The New Yorker in 1948. It is a powerful conception of culture and the dangers of adhering to its inimical aspects. The story shrouds around a village in New England, in the 1940s. Jackson portrays the dangers of barbarism in culture, its realities and sadistic climate that often surfeits reasoning.

Like many other cultural routines that are compounded in the act of purging by murder, the lottery —an annual practice— is a typical example of how accessible and prone individuals are to these practices. It is also an example of how people are killed unnecessarily, under a pretext of sacrifices to a certain god or saving a community from the wrath of these gods.

In a small village, with three hundred residents, the story starts with boys picking stones and gathering them into a pile for the annual ritual identified as “the lottery”. A normal practice that sways through the village. As the boys gather stones, villagers assemble, waiting for Old Man Warner and Mr. Summers to begin the ritual. Many villages have stopped this practice, and there are speculations about a nearby village, suppressing such. This clearly portrays a village that still dwindles in the heart of ignorance.

The book tells us of how the original box for the lottery was missing and a new box had to be constructed, the new box now having a tattered and discolored facade. It equally shows a new development in the ritual; the use of paper clips instead of wooden chips. Each slip is empty, except one that is marked with a black dot. Also, a list of all extended families was to be drafted. All of these prepared by Mr. Summers and postman Mr. Graves. The box was stored in Mr. Summer's home till the morning of the ritual.

When the day arrives, all villagers gather before 10 am. Since they are a small village of only three hundred inhabitants, they can finish the ritual before noon. With a pile of already gathered stones, the ritual begins. Old Man Warner; the oldest in the village recounts an old saying: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”, foreshadowing the ritual as payment for a bountiful harvest.

First, the heads of each extended family draw a slip from the aged black box. They do not unfold them until all slips have been drawn. When the slips are unfolded, the Hutchinson family receives the one with the mark. This means that they are the chosen family. The family consists of Bill, Tessie and their three children in one household. Since the ritual requires a chosen family to be one household, they proceed to a second drawing that takes place within the family.

Tessie, complains about Bill receiving the marked slip and blames Mr. Summers for pressuring him. After the second draw, Tessie ends up with the marked slip. Despite her protests, she is stoned to death —used as a bridge between the gods and a bountiful harvest. The story ends as the slips are blown into the wind.


Some easily identified themes are barbarism, ignorance, and adherence to rituals. All of these tell the story in line with the author's message.

● Barbarism

This is easily identified in the story by how quickly the villagers are to stone Tessie. One may observe that the stones gathered at the beginning of the story by the boys were to be used to stone the chosen one. We often see instances of stoning latched on primitiveness. That is an old way of exacting punishment on folks who falter; as examples of stoning are portrayed in the Bible and elsewhere. Tessie is the unfortunate fellow that receives the consequence of such ritual, a ritual that does not exclude tenets of barbarism.

● Ignorance

The villagers are ignorant. They do not know the inimical aspects of their ritual, so they ignorantly participate, annually, in the death of a villager. The belief stems from having a bountiful harvest. Further, this is portrayed in their perpetual practice of the ritual, even though nearby villages have stopped doing so. They are strapped in the belief of appeasing some supernatural force that aims at delivering them with an abundant supply of corn, in exchange for human life.

● Adherence to Rituals

The Lottery, as explained in the story, takes place every year. We can perceive the unconcerned attitude the villagers have towards its occasion, as opposed to being a new habit. We also see formalities the ritual requires, take place. Mr. Summers' and Mr. Graves' preparation of the slips, the boys gathering stones, Old man Warner quoting the proverb, and villagers assembling before 10 am to begin the ritual. The process is organized and carried on as a common habit.

The message of the story is totally straightforward. Shirley Jackson in “The Lottery” tells a story of her village and an ancient rite of passage that was generally practiced in North Bennington, Vermont. From here she tells us of the oblivion, barbarism, and traditional routines displayed. And as a result of this, she received backlash from many. Her story resonates deeply with the many villages that are unexposed to the petulant effects of these sorts of rituals. It similarly tells the story of the villagers and how unfazed they react to suchThe Lottery by Shirley Jackson, how willing they are to engage in such.

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